Health Ministry said pushing to halt commerce as COVID cases rise

Coronavirus cabinet set to meet Sunday to discuss next steps, with ministers said to oppose sweeping new restrictions

Staff at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem wearing protective  gear as they work at the coronavirus ward, on December 17, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Staff at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem wearing protective gear as they work at the coronavirus ward, on December 17, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ahead of Sunday’s scheduled meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, the Health Ministry is demanding commerce be halted to curb rising infections, several television networks reported Saturday.

According to Kan News, numerous ministers are expected to object to a sweeping closure of businesses around the country, arguing instead that restrictions should only be imposed in high infection areas.

The Health Ministry is also reportedly demanding that all grades above kindergarten halt classes in places with high morbidity, but ministers are expected to oppose this, demanding that grades 1-4 remain open everywhere.

Israel is contending with a marked rise in new coronavirus cases, with infections surging to almost 3,000 Tuesday through Friday, the highest caseloads in over two months.

The government-set benchmark for reimposing restrictions is an average of 2,500 daily cases over an entire week or a basic reproduction number of over 1.32. That figure was at 1.27 last week, according to the Health Ministry. Any value over one means the virus infection rate is increasing.

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy during a press conference in Jerusalem about the coronavirus on July 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The deteriorating state of the pandemic comes as Israel launches its countrywide inoculation drive.

Saturday saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu become the first Israeli to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, getting the shot on live television.

Netanyahu said the occasion marked the start of a return to “normal life,” and said he hoped Israel could become the first country to beat COVID-19. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein was also vaccinated moments after the premier.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives a coronavirus vaccine at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, on December 19, 2020, becoming the first Israeli to get the vaccine (AMIR COHEN / POOL / AFP)

Netanyahu and Edelstein must each receive a booster shot in three weeks for optimal protection from the novel coronavirus.

In the meantime, Netanyahu urged Israelis to continue to follow the health restrictions: social distancing, frequent hand-washing, and wearing masks.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will receive the vaccination Sunday when the country starts vaccinating health workers. From Monday, Israelis aged 60-plus and at-risk populations can receive a vaccine at health maintenance organizations (HMOs) with an appointment.

People wear protective face masks in Tel Aviv, on November 5, 2020. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The government hopes to inoculate some 60,000 people per day and as many as two million Israelis by the end of January.

Earlier Saturday, Channel 13 reported that authorities were already out of doses to allocate after sending the first batch of several tens of thousands of doses to HMOs, with no clear timeline for when the next shipments of shots would arrive.

The director-general of the Health Ministry denied the report.

“There will be vaccines for all the Israeli people; talk about a shortage isn’t correct,” Chezy Levy was quoted saying by the Ynet news site.

On Saturday evening, the Health Ministry said 2,815 new coronavirus cases were confirmed Friday, the fourth day in a row of nearly 3,000 daily new cases. The number of active cases stood at 23,917, of a total of 372,401 cases since the pandemic began. The death toll was at 3,070. Of the active cases, 445 people were in serious condition, including 109 on ventilators. Another 144 were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry confirmed Saturday night that as part of new steps to try to limit the spread of the pandemic, it will now define all foreign countries as “red” states with high infection rates, requiring any traveler coming to Israel to quarantine upon arrival.

A statement from the ministry said mandatory quarantine for Israelis coming from current “green” states won’t begin until December 26. Under the order, travelers will have to quarantine for 14 days, or for 10 days if they pass two coronavirus tests within nine days of their return without a positive result.

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