A panel of ministers on Friday approved the Health Ministry’s recommendation to impose lockdowns in the northern towns of Nazareth and Isfiya due to rising virus case numbers in the largely Arab Israeli and Druze locales.
The closures will go into effect on Saturday at 8:00 a.m. and last for five days.
The ministers also approved week-long extensions to lockdowns in the central Arab Israeli town of Qalansawe and the northern Druze town of Buq’ata.
Nazareth has become a major hotspot in recent weeks, with the town racking up the second-highest number of active cases countrywide, 394. The far larger Jerusalem had almost triple that number on Friday, with 1,134 active cases.
Tel Aviv had 316, Haifa had 266, Buq’ata had 224, Bnei Brak had 188 and Umm al-Fahm had 158.
The Health Ministry said that 5,008 people were diagnosed with the coronavirus over the last week, a figure that is 16.8% higher than the previous week. This is the first week where that percentage rose since the beginning of October.
Thirty-eight Israelis died over the past week, a decrease compared to last week when 67 people died. The total virus death toll stood at 2,744.
On Thursday 1.4% of tests conducted came back positive — a slight improvement from the 1.7% on Wednesday and 2.3% on Sunday.
On Thursday Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said he was increasingly concerned about the necessity for a possible third national lockdown in Israel to contain the coronavirus, warning against further easing of restrictions until an additional drop in infections.
“I see morbidity rising, I see we’re continuing to [re]open, I see malls deciding on their own to open without any guidelines,” he told Channel 12 news. He said if such patterns continue, “a third lockdown will probably arrive.”
Kisch, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, appeared to criticize the pace at which restrictions put in place during the second national lockdown were being lifted.
“We have dropped the policy of not opening before we see morbidity declining,” he said.
Meanwhile, the director-general of the Health Ministry was asked if there would be a lockdown during the Hannukah holiday, which this year runs from December 10-18.
“I don’t know if there will be a lockdown during Hannukah,” Chezy Levy said during a press briefing. “I definitely do know that a rise in morbidity can lead to the return of restrictions, or new restrictions, and we are seeing a rise in morbidity.”
According to Levy, the basic reproduction rate — the average number of people each virus carrier infects — is currently over 1.0, when 0.8 had been defined as the threshold beyond which restrictions would stop being eased.
A reproduction rate above 1.0 means the number of active cases is rising rather than declining. Despite these warnings, Levy said a pilot plan for reopening malls would soon be launched.
The high-level coronavirus cabinet is set to convene Sunday to discuss further steps.