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2,800 new cases found as official warns vaccine won’t curb pandemic before March

Health Ministry’s head of public health services says there’s light at the end of the tunnel but ‘we’re still in the middle of it’

Staff at Shaare Zedek Medical Center and patients light Hanukkah candles at the hospital's coronavirus ward in Jerusalem on December 17, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Staff at Shaare Zedek Medical Center and patients light Hanukkah candles at the hospital's coronavirus ward in Jerusalem on December 17, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel’s daily coronavirus case count continued to hover just below 3,000 Friday, with the Health Ministry saying the previous day had seen 2,809 new diagnoses.

Meanwhile, the head of the ministry’s public health services division Sharon Alroy-Preis warned against public complacency as the nation is set to begin a massive vaccination program next week, saying any effects of the inoculation drive would not be felt before March.

The number of active cases stood at 22,258 Friday morning, out of a total of 368,759 since the pandemic began. Of the patients, 419 were in serious condition. The death toll stood at 3,050.

Some 80,000 tests were conducted Thursday, with 3.6 percent coming back positive.

Alroy-Preis told Army Radio on Friday morning: “We are in the midst of a pandemic that is expanding and we need to pull ourselves together and take steps to stop it.”

A COVID-19 patient gets a visit from his two daughters in Jerusalem on December 17, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

She warned the imminent vaccination was creating a false sense of security. “When people feel the light at the end of the tunnel is getting bigger and see the vaccines, there’s a tendency to loosen up.”

But “even if we start vaccinations today, and assuming a very significant percentage of the public comes to get vaccinated, we’ll see the effects in March at the earliest. In the meantime the pandemic is spreading.”

An end to the pandemic is “at the end of the tunnel but we’re still in the middle of it,” Alroy-Preis cautioned.

Sharon Alroy-Preis. (Courtesy)

According to a Channel 12 report Thursday, health officials believe that Israel will reach 5,000 to 6,000 new daily coronavirus cases before the effects of new restrictions kick in, and consequently are pushing for significant constraints or another lockdown in order to gain control of the virus.

Earlier this week, the cabinet tentatively approved a series of measures, including the complete re-shuttering of the commercial sector and a return to online learning for grades 1-4 in “red” and “orange” locales with high case numbers, such as Ashkelon, Or Yehuda, Ra’anana, Umm al-Fahm and several Jerusalem neighborhoods.

Those restrictions must be approved by the coronavirus cabinet — a smaller forum of ministers whose portfolios touch on the virus outbreak — which is slated to convene on Sunday.

Health officials told Channel 12 that the increase in movement and gatherings over the Hanukkah holiday will likely lead to a dramatic rise in case numbers that could see 5,000-6,000 new cases diagnosed a day and as many as 800 seriously ill patients by the end of January.

The National Security Council is currently considering proposing an immediate quick lockdown to curtail the quick rise in cases, the network said.

A nurse seen during a simulated vaccination against the COVID-19 virus, at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on December 17, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel has already had two national lockdowns since the outbreak began in March. Some restrictions from the second lockdown, limiting public life, have been in place since mid-September.

The warnings of renewed restrictions come as Israel prepares to launch its vaccination program next week, with the government setting a target of 60,000 vaccinations a day once the drive begins, meaning two million Israelis could be vaccinated by the end of January.

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