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Edelstein: Israel ‘has entered the 3rd wave,’ no choice but to go into lockdown

Health minister says country has ‘missed the train’ on tightening restrictions and must now enter a full closure, as virus test positivity rate climbs above 5%

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein applauds as a man is vaccinated at an eldercare facility in Sha'arei Tikva, December 22, 2020 (Health Ministry)
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein applauds as a man is vaccinated at an eldercare facility in Sha'arei Tikva, December 22, 2020 (Health Ministry)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Tuesday that Israel was in a critical situation and had no choice but to enter a full lockdown.

“We have missed the train with tightened restraint and there is no escape from a lockdown,” Edelstein said on a visit to an eldercare facility that was kicking off its vaccination program for residents.

“It will take between two and three months for the vaccine [program] to take effect,” Edelstein said. “We are in a critical situation. We wasted precious time, and the state of the infections means we have no choice but to go into lockdown.

“We have reached a positivity rate of over 5 percent and the reproduction rate stands at 1.3. It must be said… we have entered the third wave,” Edelstein said.

People shop in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, December 21, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Any reproduction value over 1 means that the virus infection rate is increasing.

The essential difference between tightened restraints and full lockdown is that the latter would also impact the education system and limit movement.

Previous lockdowns have seen citizens restricted to just a few hundred meters from their homes other than for vital tasks.

Edelstein’s warning came hours after national coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said officials needed to make an immediate decision on sending the country into a full lockdown or tightening restrictions as the daily new caseload climbed over 3,500.

“A decision needs to be made now. Tightened restraint will take about five weeks” to lower the spread of the virus adequately. “Full closure will be shorter — three weeks at the current infection rate,” Ash said.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Herzliya, December 20, 2020 (Flash90)

The Health Ministry announced Tuesday morning that 3,594 new coronavirus cases had been diagnosed the previous day, the highest number in months. The total number of infections in Israel since the start of the pandemic reached 380,095.

The number of active cases in the country stood at 27,628, with 472 patients in serious condition, including 119 on ventilators. Another 154 were in moderate condition, with the rest showing mild or no symptoms.

The death toll stood at 3,111.

According to the ministry, 4.2 percent of tests returned positive on Monday, out of the 85,173 administered. That figure showed a continuation of the trend of the rate increasing; last week, the positivity rate hovered around 3%.

Amid the spiraling infections, the coronavirus cabinet on Monday voted to compel all Israelis entering the country from Wednesday at 10 p.m. to quarantine in state-run hotels, amid fears of a new, more contagious strain emerging from the United Kingdom.

Travelers stand at check-in desks at Terminal 2 of Heathrow Airport in west London on December 21, 2020 (Niklas HALLE’N / AFP)

Additionally, all foreign nationals will be banned from entering the country. Until now, foreign travelers have been allowed entry into Israel to attend Health Ministry-approved life-cycle events for first-degree relatives, and for several other reasons.

The cabinet’s decisions were initially in effect for 10 days.

COVID-19 vaccines arrive at the Ziv medical center in the northern Israeli city of Safed, on December 21, 2020 (David Cohen/Flash90)

Meanwhile on Monday, health providers nationwide began to vaccinate older members of the general public.

According to the Haaretz daily, around 11,000 people over the age of 60 were vaccinated, one day after some 15,000 medical workers received the inoculation. Around 270,000 Israelis have so far been notified that they are eligible to make an appointment to receive the vaccine.

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