Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Saturday warned that Israel faces “tough days” ahead as it deals with a resurgence in coronavirus cases, while pushing back on calls for another national lockdown to stem the rising morbidity.
“Everything possible is being done to avoid lockdowns, which are destructive tools for our livelihood, for the economy, and for the education of our children,” Bennett wrote in a lengthy Facebook post. “Lockdowns are a last resort.”
Bennett asserted that the three lockdowns over the past year — imposed by previous governments led by former premier Benjamin Netanyahu — cost Israel over NIS 200 billion ($62 billion).
“Our goal is simple: to preserve the health of the citizens of Israel, and also to preserve the economic future of the State of Israel,” he wrote.
Bennett warned of “tough days” to come, but said “I am sure that if we act in accordance with the plan, and if the citizens of Israel wear masks, get vaccinated as soon as it is possible for them, and in general — if we act in solidarity and mutual assistance — we will overcome the Delta variant.”
His warning came as the Health Ministry said that 5,868 new cases were recorded on Friday, continuing the trend of around 6,000 daily cases over the past five days — numbers not seen since February, during the country’s most serious outbreak. Another 3,389 cases were recorded since midnight.
According to Channel 12 news, Health Ministry officials warned during a meeting on Friday that the country could see some 10,000 daily virus cases next week.
The ministry also said that nearly 130,000 tests were conducted on Friday, with 4.93 percent coming back positive.
Of the 48,401 cases, 494 people were in serious condition, out of 827 hospitalized at coronavirus wards.
The death toll since the start of the pandemic stood at 6,622.
Amid the rising number of hospitalizations, Shamir Medical Center in Be’er Ya’akov stopped receiving additional patients as its coronavirus wards filled up, Channel 13 news reported on Saturday.
The network said that new COVID patients requiring hospitalization were diverted away from hospitals in central Israel — including Assaf Harofeh in Be’er Ya’akov and Kaplan in Rehovot — to hospitals in Jerusalem that were less packed.
Health officials reportedly showed Bennett figures on Wednesday that forecasted that, within a month, Israel could see hospitals overrun with 4,800 coronavirus patients, half of whom would be suffering from serious bouts of COVID-19.
Overnight on Saturday, a mass vaccine drive was hosted at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square, targeting partygoers and youths in the coastal city who have yet to be vaccinated. On Saturday, Bennett instructed 10 other cities to do the same from Sunday through Tuesday, the Kan public broadcaster reported.
Out of Israel’s population of some 9.3 million, over 5.8 million have received at least one vaccine dose, and nearly 5.4 million have gotten two.
Last month, Israel became the first country in the world to begin administering booster shots to those over 60, and became a pioneer once again on Friday, as it began giving third doses to people older than 50. As of Saturday evening, 813,216 people in Israel have received the booster.
Israel hopes the booster shot will begin to show results soon and slow the growth in the number of serious cases amid the rapid spread of the super-contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.