Surging coronavirus infections force the country into its third lockdown this year, to last at least 25 days.
By Paul Shindman, World Israel News
Israel’s government on Wednesday ordered a third national lockdown as coronavirus infections continued to surge and hospital wards filled with patients.
The closure will start this coming Sunday at 5:00 p.m. and continue for at least 25 days, said a joint statement by the Prime Minister’s office and the Health Ministry.
The strict lockdown will resemble that of the second. Retails stores and businesses will be shuttered. Businesses that don’t cater to the public will operate at 50% capacity. Public transportation will operate at 50% capacity. Schools will be partly open. People are to stay within one kilometer of their homes except for obtaining food and medicines.
At the start of the meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said even though Israel’s death rate was lower than in other countries, “if we do not act immediately, it will not remain so and there will be a very sharp increase, both for the critically ill and for deaths. If we delay taking action against the disease and the severe outbreak we see, we will pay a very heavy price.”
After imposing a second lockdown in September, daily infections dropped to about 500 per day after peaking at over 9,000. However, since easing health restrictions at the end of October a third wave of infections hit the country rising to over 3,600 new cases in the past day.
After the number of active cases of Israelis sick with coronavirus skyrocketed to 72,164 on October 2, that number dropped to only 7,629 active cases by November 15, but in the past month has soared back up to 29,404 as of Wednesday afternoon. Of the 888 Israelis currently hospitalized with the virus, 510 are in serious condition with 116 of them connected to respirators.
Earlier Wednesday, the head of Israel’s coronavirus task force, Prof. Nachman Ash, warned that failure to immediately lock the country down would be fatal.
“If we continue with the ‘sit and do not do’ method, unfortunately the disease will continue to skyrocket with much more dangerous sharpness and we will reach an additional 3,000 dead within two months,” Ash said, with Israel’s death toll since the beginning of the pandemic currently at 3,141.
“It should be understood that there is no escape from entering a closure,” Ash warned. “If they [the cabinet] had acted in accordance with our recommendations two weeks ago, it might have been possible to avoid it. As we foresaw, morbidity has risen significantly, including severe morbidity.”
“So far the [Health Ministry] forecasts have been accurate, let’s not endanger public health. Help us reduce the morbidity,” Ash appealed.
Separate from the closure and in response to reports of virus mutations appearing in several countries, Israel closed air travel to all foreigners and as Wednesday evening anyone who arrives by air will be taken to a government-run quarantine hotel, although an exceptions committee at Ben Gurion Airport will allow for humanitarian exceptions, a Health Ministry statement said.
The Health Ministry reported three people who recently returned from England were found to be infected with the mutated coronavirus and those people are in solitary confinement in a quarantine hotel. A fourth case of an Israeli who had not been abroad but has the mutation is under investigation.
Also Wednesday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein ordered hospitals to set up coronavirus vaccination “to speed up the inoculation campaign” because Israel’s four Health Maintenance Organizations had been overwhelmed with the demand and waiting periods were already extending into February.