Israel on Sunday neared the grim milestone of 4,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic.
The Jewish state recorded its first coronavirus death in late March. The death toll passed 1,000 in early September, with fatalities in the country then swiftly doubling by mid-October. On December 14, the number of COVID-19 deaths hit 3,000.
As of Saturday night, the death toll stood at 3,959. Since the beginning of 2021, 621 Israelis have died from the virus.
The mounting fatalities came as the national vaccine drive continues to expand, with additional shipments of hundreds of thousands of shots set to arrive early this week.
All Israelis over the age of 45 will be eligible to receive the first COVID-19 shot through their health providers starting Sunday.
Over 2 million Israelis have already received the first shot of the vaccine, and nearly 225,000 have been administered the second dose. By late March, Israel will have vaccinated 5.2 million citizens against the coronavirus, according to a plan drawn up by the Health Ministry.
Coinciding with the launch of the vaccination campaign has been a surge in coronavirus cases, with some 9,000 daily new infections diagnosed in recent days.
There has also been a sharp rise in fatalities and the number of patients in serious condition from COVID-19 complications. As of Saturday night, 1,184 people were in serious condition, 274 of them on ventilators.
The cabinet is set to decide this week whether to extend the tightened coronavirus lockdown which began a week ago and is set to expire Thursday night. Channel 12 News reported Saturday that while the Health Ministry is pushing to extend the tightened lockdown measures, opposition from Blue and White and ultra-Orthodox parties could lead to them expiring Thursday as scheduled.
“We are in the final stages of the coronavirus. Israel, with the scale of its vaccine drive, is showing the world that there is an exit strategy,” Ronni Gamzu, who was Israel’s COVID czar and has since returned to his job as director of Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, told Channel 12 news on Friday.
At least 75% of the population over 60 has received at least one dose of the two-shot regimen already.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed last week that Israel would ramp up its vaccine drive further, to a target of administering 170,000 shots a day.