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Just 1 in 3 Israelis expected to abide by a new lockdown if imposed — report

Home Front Command presents internal research to PM Bennett; health official says crisis point approaching

Police at a temporary checkpoint outside Jerusalem's Old City, on September 19, 2020, during a nationwide lockdown on Rosh Hashana. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police at a temporary checkpoint outside Jerusalem's Old City, on September 19, 2020, during a nationwide lockdown on Rosh Hashana. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Just about 30 percent of Israelis are expected to abide by the rules of a lockdown if a fourth such measure is imposed nationwide in the coming weeks, according to an internal survey conducted by the Home Front Command and presented to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett this week.

According to Channel 12 news on Friday, the study showed that just one in three people said they intend to fully adhere to a lockdown at this point in the pandemic.

The unsourced report, which did not disclose details of the study nor its methodology, suggested that the findings may have led Bennett to hold off on considering such a measure, opting to launch additional vaccination campaigns for those who have avoided getting the jabs and booster shots for those over 50 years of age.

The Home Front Command was also instructed to ramp up its epidemiological investigations and contact tracing efforts, according to the report.

The government has been seeking ways to cut the spread of the virus without resorting to the drastic measure of a lockdown, in particular during the Jewish High Holidays in September. If imposed, it will be Israel’s fourth national lockdown in 18 months.

A health ministry official told the national broadcaster Kan on Friday that, at the current infection rate, the government will reach a crisis point in about two weeks and will be forced to make a decision.

The same unnamed official said that offering the booster shots to over-50s and getting to an 80 percent vaccination rate in that age sector could help stop the infection surge.

Israel is currently dealing with a major influx of new cases driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, with over 450 people in serious condition and close to 45,000 active infections. The positivity rate has also been climbing and stands at about 5%, according to Health Ministry figures.

On Tuesday, a meeting between Bennett and senior health experts prompted the premier to back a plan to expand hospital capacity, a signal that the government will look to absorb the crush of severe cases head-on rather than attempt to swerve out of its way.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on August 8, 2021. (Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool)

Senior Health Ministry officials and other experts presented Bennett with data forecasting some 4,800 coronavirus patients requiring hospitalization by September 10. The experts expect half of the patients to be seriously ill, putting a major strain on Israel’s health system, according to Hebrew-language media reports on the closed-door meeting.

Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz agreed to pump money into the health system to bring in 100 more doctors, 500 nurses and 200 paramedical and support staff every 10 days to keep up with growing demand, according to a summary of the meeting drafted by the Prime Minister’s Office and published by the Ynet news site.

Some 3,000 students will also be hired and paramedics and military medics will be brought in to carry out home visits and assist in home treatments for coronavirus patients.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, center, watches a resident of the Migdal Nofim retirement home in Jerusalem be tested for the coronavirus, on July 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Also this week, ministers in the coronavirus cabinet briefly discussed and then dismissed a proposal to institute a lockdown only for the over-60 population in Israel, as a way to limit the spread of the pandemic.

The idea was floated during a Wednesday night meeting by Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana, and backed by Science Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen and Minister in the Finance Ministry Hamad Amar, according to Channel 12 news on Thursday.

Members of the coronavirus cabinet, a select forum tasked with forming virus policy, had met to approve new measures limiting gatherings.

At the meeting, ministers were told that of more than 400 seriously ill COVID-19 patients, 85% are over the age of 60, the report said. This prompted the suggestion of a lockdown just for that age group.

But the network said most ministers voiced strong opposition to the move, and Deputy Attorney General Ran Nizri said it was doubtful that such a move would be legal. He said it was highly problematic to apply measures that allow some citizens to roam freely while keeping others at home.

Having appeared to put the coronavirus pandemic behind it just a few months ago after a cutting-edge vaccine drive, Israel is now reimposing restrictions, in a bid to clamp down on rising infections amid the spread of the Delta variant.

Staff member receives a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine shot at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, on August 13, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Ministers eventually approved several new coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday that will take effect next week, including further limits on gatherings, Green Pass requirements on most institutions and leisure activities, and renewed limitations on all stores, limiting the number of customers inside.

The Green Pass system — which limits entry to venues to those who are vaccinated, recovered, or present valid negative tests — will be applied from August 18 to many locations, including swimming pools, gyms, academic institutions, sporting and cultural events, conferences and exhibitions, museums, libraries, restaurants, and hotels.

The limitation will apply to all people over age three. Children under the age of 12, who are not currently eligible to vaccinate, will be able to take rapid tests for free. Anyone unvaccinated over the age of 12 will need to pay for their tests.

Meanwhile, starting August 16, so-called Purple Badge requirements will take effect, limiting stores to one customer per seven square meters.

Participants at mass events will be capped at 1,000 people in closed spaces and 5,000 in open spaces. For private events, only 50 people will be allowed inside and 100 people will be allowed outside.

In an attempt to protect the elderly, at the end of last month, Israel rolled out a third vaccine shot to citizens age 60 and up. Over 715,000 people have been administered a third booster shot since.

Israel has since expanded the program, now offering the booster shot to all people over 50.

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