Israelis warned against complacency as vaccines not ready yet, hundreds of new cases

Health Ministry buys 10 million more doses of vaccine from the UK, but warns they won’t arrive in time to help this winter.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s Health Ministry warned Sunday that although it has purchased tens of millions of doses of vaccines, coronavirus cases are on the rise and the medicine won’t be available in Israel until next year.

A Health Ministry report said a new trend of hundreds of new cases daily has emerged, and Israelis are getting sicker from the virus.

“For the first time in about a month and a half, an increase in the number of new patients and new patients in critical condition has also been identified in the past week,” the report, released Sunday morning, stated.

The Ministry warned that lack of public compliance with wearing masks and social distancing as lockdown restrictions are being eased is “expected to accelerate the level of morbidity.”

“Along with the apparent success in developing new vaccines for corona, it should be kept in mind that the vaccines will probably not have a real impact on the course of the epidemic in Israel this coming winter due to production, supply and distribution challenges. Therefore, the rules of conduct required to curb the plague must be maintained,” the Ministry said, urging the public to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing and hygiene.

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Last week, the government eased some restrictions on retail stores, allowing larger stores to have more than four customers at a time based on floor space. Students in grades 5 and 6 are expected to return to school this Tuesday, but debate rages on as to whether or not it is safe yet to allow higher grades to resume.

Indoor shopping malls and some outdoor markets remain closed, which led to protests in Tel Aviv by market stall owners and a one-day rebellion in which some malls opened for business in defiance of the regulations. Malls and stall owners complained that the government was allowing some stores to open only a short distance from where it had ordered others to stay closed despite similarities in accessibility to the public.

On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced a deal with the British Pharmaceutical company Astrazeneca for 10 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine being developed in partnership with Oxford University.

The Astrazeneca vaccine requires two injections, so there will be coverage for 5 million Israelis. Earlier this month Israel signed similar deals with the American companies Pfizer for 8 million doses and Moderna for another several million doses, neither of which are expected to start supplying their vaccines until sometime in the first quarter of 2021.

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“My policy is that anyone who wants to get vaccinated will have the opportunity to get vaccinated,” Netanyahu said Friday. “Better preparation than lack of preparation. We will continue to work to ensure that we have as many vaccines as possible, from as many sources and as quickly as possible.”

On Sunday, the Health Ministry reported 415 new cases in the past day, but that number is lower than normal due to fewer tests conducted on the weekend. The positive test rate of 1.8% gives the equivalent of over 750 new cases for normal daily test rates. The government had set a target of an average of 500 new cases a day over a week before the next stage of economic reopening could take place safely.

Of the 572 Israelis hospitalized with coronavirus, 318 are listed in serious condition, with that number showing a steady rise from the 293 who were in serious condition on November 13.

Israel’s death toll from the pandemic is now at 2,757, an additional 36 deaths in the past week.