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Coronavirus in Israel: Gov’t presents three-stage lockdown exit plan

CM 04/02/2021

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A strategy to gradually lift the lockdown in Israel in three phases taking several criteria into consideration – including vaccination rate and number of serious patients but not of new daily cases – was introduced by the Health Ministry on Thursday as the government convened to discuss the country’s next steps for the battle against coronavirus.
Israel’s lockdown is supposed to end Friday at 7 a.m. The cabinet meeting originally set for Wednesday was pushed off twice, having been rescheduled for early Thursday afternoon and then again delayed until 3 p.m.
According to the ministry’s outline, at first, movement restrictions will be lifted, some workplaces will be allowed to reopen, and younger children will return to school – although a detailed plan would need to be formulated at a later stage together with the Education Ministry. In order for this to happen, the ministry requires two million people vaccinated with both shots, including 80% of those over the age of 50, an R rate inferior to one and less than 1,000 patients in serious condition.
The ministry hopes that these goals can be achieved by Sunday at midnight, with health officials asking to maintain the restrictions until then. Currently, some 1.9 million Israelis have received both vaccines, and there are about 1,100 patients in serious condition. During the meeting, some ministers expressed disbelief that the criteria set would be actually met by Sunday.
In the second phase, sectors considered at low risk which used to operate under the “purple ribbon” standards would resume their activities through the “green label” that the authorities are developing for people who got the vaccines. For this phase, three million people vaccinated with both shots, including 90% of those over the age of 50, an R rate close to one and stable as well as less than 800 patients in serious condition are required.
Coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash said he expects that serious patients will be less than 900 in two weeks. Netanyahu expressed confidence than in two weeks Israel will also achieve the goal of 90% of people over 50 vaccinated.
In the third phase, sectors considered at high risk will be allowed to open through the “green label.” For this to happen, the ministry envisions four million people vaccinated with both shots, including 95% of those over the age of 50, an R rate inferior close to one and a stable and acceptable number of patients in serious condition.

“The morbidity in the country is very high, and unfortunately we are seeing only a moderate decrease in patients in serious conditions. As a result, the strain and burden on the hospitals are very significant,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the opening of the meeting.
“Go get vaccinated. The vaccines work. Therefore, if all of you go to get vaccinated – we can gradually get out of the coronavirus pandemic and open our economy carefully and responsibly.
This is the order of the day, and we will talk about it today at the cabinet meeting,” he added.
“We need to switch from operating in an accordion mode, to a train mode with intermediate stations and a final destination – opening all sectors on the basis of the green label. The lockdown has ceased to be a working plan and the only solution on the table,” Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz emphasized.
Gantz suggested lifting restrictions according to a traffic light system, with red cities remaining under lockdown. Among other things, he invited the government to abolish movement restrictions, allowing indoor gatherings of up to 10 people including in synagogues, reopening national parks and businesses under the “purple ribbon” standards.
Ahead of the meeting, Blue and White ministers had said that they would push for some restrictions to be lifted already on Friday.
Some 7,385 new cases of the virus were diagnosed on Wednesday, the Health Ministry reported Thursday morning. Out of over 85,000 tests which about 8.9% returned a positive result. Both figures mark a decrease from the previous day. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 4,947 had passed away from the virus, 59 of whom died in the previous 24 hours.
There are 76,896 active cases in the country. Some 1,768 patients are hospitalized, and 1,103 patients are in serious condition, 315 of whom are intubated.
As of Thursday morning, all Israelis over the age of 16 are eligible to be vaccinated. So far 3,298,233 individuals have received the first dose, while 1,906,942 have received the second dose.
Overall about 35% of the nation’s population has already been vaccinated, but after data released by the Health Ministry shows a steady and high rate of infection and significant vaccination-rate disparities among residents in different parts of the country.
While in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba, over 40% of the residents have been inoculated, in several other cities, the response has been far worse In Jerusalem, only 21% of the residents have received at least one shot, and in Bnai Brak 15%.
During the meeting, the government approved an increase in the fines against those who violate coronavirus regulations. Among others, schools which operate in spite of the prohibitions will receive a NIS 5,000 fine if they hold up less than 35 pupils and a NIS 10,000 fine if they are attended by a higher number of students. In addition, holding events with more participants than allowed will lead to a NIS 5,000 fine for those happening in open areas and a NIS 10,000 fine for those held in closed spaces.
The government is also expected to discuss the closure of the borders and the skies, which are due to expire on Sunday.
At the moment, Israelis cannot enter or leave the countries except for very specific urgent circumstances and with a personal authorization from a newly formed governmental committee.
For those who do manage to return, the requirement to quarantine in a coronavirus hotel was extended by two weeks, up to February 21.
Netanyahu himself announced Thursday he would postpone his planned trip to the United Arab Emirates in light of the closure of the skies.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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