Defense Minister Benny Gantz told lawmakers in his Blue and White party on Sunday that he would demand strict restrictions for the upcoming Purim holiday to allow a continued reopening of the economy after weeks of lockdown.
According to Channel 13 news, Gantz told the meeting of MKs that he could go as far as demanding a full closure for the holiday so as not to reverse any gains made by the vaccination program and weeks of lockdown, and to allow the continued gradual reopening of the economy.
The Purim holiday is usually marked by parties and revelry in both religious and secular Jewish communities. Last year’s Purim is believed to have been a major contributor to Israel’s first wave of infections.
Channel 12 news reported that Blue and White will demand an immediate announcement on the matter to give people time to prepare for the holiday.
Speaking to Radio 103 Sunday morning, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash also said that the Purim holiday, which begins on on the evening of February 25, was a cause for concern.
“The possibility of imposing a night curfew or closure on Purim exists, but I do not think we need to get into this situation,” he said.
“If we seem to be going for something uncontrollable that could affect the morbidity trend in a bad way, we may recommend it. I do not want to get there,” Ash said.
With morbidity rates among high-risk groups dropping amid Israel’s rapid vaccination campaign, ministers are reportedly on track to reach a compromise deal at the coronavirus cabinet meeting Sunday to reopen shuttered Israeli commerce earlier than the planned February 23 target date.
In an additional change of policy, the traffic light system denoting infection levels in different cities was to be updated twice a week instead of weekly, potentially returning tens of thousands of children to school as early as Monday.
According to Hebrew-language media reports, students in kindergartens and grades 1-4 could return to the classroom in a number of cities including Modiin, Ariel and Hod Hasharon. Additionally some neighborhoods in Jerusalem and sectors of Tel Aviv could also be permitted to open their school gates.
The Health Ministry said Sunday morning that 1,896 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 the previous day, a significantly lower number attributable to reduced testing over the weekend. The positivity rate stood at 7.8%, consistent with rates from last week.
The total number of cases since the pandemic started hit 723,038, including 60,976 active cases. They include 1,008 serious cases, of which 378 were in critical condition and 284 on ventilators.
The death toll reached 5,368.
The ministry additionally announced on Sunday afternoon that 14 new cases of the highly contagious South African coronavirus variant have been found in Israel, including one case of reinfection of an individual who had already previously been diagnosed with the virus.
In total, 44 cases of the South African mutation of the virus have now been diagnosed in Israel.
However, according to figures released by the Military Intelligence task force, Israel’s R-value, the reproduction number of the virus that measures transmission, dropped from 1.0 last week to 0.85. The number of serious patients was also on the decline, the task force reported, with the number down 125 since last week, when there were 1,133 patients in critical condition.
But the data also shows that a noticeable increase in serious cases among those under 60, which this week constituted about 40% of all serious patients. At the same time, there is a clear decline in the rate of severe morbidity among those 60 and over.
While over 3.8 million Israelis have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 2.4 million getting both doses, the figures also show that the drive has slowed across all age groups but particularly among the over 60s, 10% of whom have not yet been vaccinated.