Hours ahead of Israel’s third national lockdown, the Health Ministry told emergency services that due to fears of overcrowding, not all new COVID-19 patients in Jerusalem should be taken to hospitals there.
The Magen David Adom emergency service was told that some patients with coronavirus should be taken to hospitals outside the city in an attempt to ease the pressure as medical centers reached capacity.
The capital’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center said in a statement that they were processing patients who were already at the facility but were not being brought new patients for treatment. The Hadassah hospitals, in contrast, said they were “taking as many patients as were coming.”
The decision to reroute patients came as the national inoculation drive was set to kick into high gear this week, with hospitals joining the effort. Hundreds of IDF medics will also participate to help expedite the process.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Sunday that 280,000 Israelis had already received their first dose of the vaccine in the first week of the nationwide inoculation program.
“It keeps going up. We finished the first week of vaccinations with the incredible number of 280,000 vaccinated, with 71,000 of them over the weekend.” Edelstein said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday he sought to reach a vaccination rate of around 150,000 people a day within a week, and to have inoculated over 2 million Israelis by the end of January.
Israel on Sunday was set to impose its third nationwide lockdown since the start of the pandemic, with police deploying some 6,000 officers to enforce the rules. The lockdown aimed at tackling the COVID-19 resurgence will begin at 5 p.m. and last for at least two weeks, though health officials have indicated it would likely be extended to a month.
A senior health official said on Sunday that the length of the lockdown could depend on the extent that the education system remained open.
“I assume that the lockdown will take between three and four weeks, but if the full education system returns to activity, it will take longer,” Sharon Alroy-Preis, the acting head of the ministry’s public health services division, told Army Radio.
Kindergartens and school grades 1-4 and 11-12 will be going to class as usual during the lockdown, while grades 5-10 will study remotely. However, public pressure was building from parents and officials who wanted all children and teens studying in the classroom.
Edelstein said in a statement Saturday night he would seek to vaccinate the country’s teachers and kindergarten workers this week.
The lockdown was to be imposed as Health Ministry data released on Sunday morning showed 2,630 cases of coronavirus diagnosed a day earlier. There were 63,434 tests carried out on Saturday, with 4.1% of them returning a positive result. Testing numbers and new cases often fall off on weekends.
There were 35,525 active cases in Israel, with 584 patients in serious condition including 133 on ventilators. There were 178 patients in moderate condition and the remainder were defined as mild or suffering no symptoms.
There have been 399,642 people diagnosed with the coronavirus in Israel since the start of the pandemic.
The country’s death toll stood at 3,210.
Israel’s two previous lockdowns, in April and September, succeeded in bringing down infection numbers, but morbidity ballooned again as the closures were rolled back and travelers from a number of countries were allowed to return without testing or quarantine.
Health officials have expressed optimism that the latest closure will be the nation’s last as it steps up its vaccination drive.
During the lockdown, security forces will set up hundreds of checkpoints on highways around the country. Hebrew media reports indicated that the police presence on the roads would be sporadic during the day and bolstered during the nighttime hours.
The lockdown rules will bar Israelis from entering another person’s home; restrict movement to 1 kilometer from home, with exceptions, such as for vaccinations; shut down commerce, leisure and entertainment (except for essentials); limit public transportation to 50% capacity; and limit workplaces that do not deal with customers face-to-face to 50% capacity. Fines for those breaking rules stand at NIS 500 ($155).