Health Ministry set to push immediate 3-week lockdown amid rising cases

Cabinet to meet Wednesday afternoon to make decision, with leaders reportedly at odds over timing for reimposing sweeping restrictions

Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox Jews walk in Bnei Brak on October 14, 2020, during a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox Jews walk in Bnei Brak on October 14, 2020, during a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The Health Ministry is reportedly planning to present cabinet ministers Wednesday with a proposal to introduce an immediate three-week national lockdown that would include shuttering schools and limiting people to within a kilometer of their homes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have agreed to impose a third national lockdown to curb a surge in new COVID-19 infections, Israeli television reported Tuesday, but have not finalized the details of the specific restrictions.

With Health Ministry Yuli Edelstein saying that Israel has entered a “third wave” of the virus, Health Ministry officials plan to recommend that the government vote in favor of a full and immediate lockdown rather than waiting any longer, according to Hebrew media reports Wednesday morning.

The cabinet is set to convene Wednesday afternoon. It isn’t clear if there is sufficient support among ministers to approve another lockdown, and with the Knesset having dissolved Tuesday and fresh elections coming up, it is likely that the decision could be affected by political considerations.

While Netanyahu and Gantz have agreed the public needs time to prepare for another lockdown, they differ on when the sweeping restrictions will come into effect, with Netanyahu preferring as soon as possible and Gantz backing a two-week preparation period, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry proposal is said to include shuttering all schools nationwide, regardless of infection rates in various cities, while officials are in disagreement over whether preschools should be allowed to remain open.

If approved, the lockdown is also expected to include the shuttering of commerce and a ban on traveling more than a kilometer from one’s home other than for essential needs, as was the case during the second national lockdown in September-October.

Speaking Wednesday morning to Kan, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said that “the situation calls for an immediate closure.”

Citing rising infection numbers, which on Tuesday surpassed 3,000 new daily cases for the third day in a row, Ash said, “There is a disturbing jump in morbidity. The situation is worrying.”

“I hope the public understands that this is important and we all hope it will be the last,” he said of the decision to recommend a full lockdown. “The sooner we do it, the shorter it will be. The longer we wait, the longer it will be. It is important that it be short.”

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash at the Jerusalem Municipality on November 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

His comments came as the Health Ministry announced that 3,251 coronavirus cases were confirmed the previous day, bringing the number of infections in Israel since the pandemic began to 383,385.

The ministry said that 5.1 percent of tests came back positive over Tuesday.

The number of active cases in the country stood at 28,960, with 503 patients in serious condition, including 118 on ventilators. Another 161 were in moderate condition, with the rest showing mild or no symptoms.

The death toll rose to 3,136, the ministry said.

Health Minister Edelstein said that 71,876 Israelis had been vaccinated as of Tuesday night.

“We’re only at the start of the path. Go get vaccinated,” he was quoted saying in a Health Ministry statement.

A man waits to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 coronavirus at Clalit Health Services center in Bnei Brak, on September 6, 2020. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP via Getty Images/ via JTA/ SUE)

Medical workers were given the first injections and on Monday, vaccinations were opened up to those aged 60 and up. The government has not yet specified when the vaccines will be made available more broadly.

Ash, speaking Wednesday morning, said that he estimated 20% of the population would be inoculated by March.

He added, “If we want to get 60% vaccinated during the process, there is still a ways to go.”

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