51% of Israelis live in high infection areas

99,000 vaccinated Sunday as world-leading Israel expands its inoculation drive

With 379,000 shots administered, Israel overtakes Bahrain for injections per capita while Edelstein pledges to increase pace; but positive tests hit highest rate in two months

A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine at Maccabi Healthcare Services vaccination center in Modiin, on December 24, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine at Maccabi Healthcare Services vaccination center in Modiin, on December 24, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Monday announced a new daily record in coronavirus vaccination numbers, with 98,916 shots administered the previous day, a week after Israel began its inoculation campaign. The total number of inoculations in the country stood at 379,000.

In a statement, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein praised the various authorities and care providers for their work in quickly administering the vaccine, as well as the public for its enthusiasm in receiving it.

“We’ll continue in this manner, and we’ll increase the pace even further,” he said.

Israel currently ranks first globally in vaccinations per capita, slightly ahead of Bahrain and quite significantly ahead of other world countries, according to the University of Oxford-run Our World in Data.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein during a press conference at Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem, in Jerusalem, July 15, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry also reported Monday morning that another 3,498 virus cases had been diagnosed Sunday, and another 784 so far Monday, taking the number of active cases up to 35,591. The death toll rose by 6 to 3,226 and the number of seriously ill was at 590.

The test positivity rate stood at 4.9 percent — the highest rate since mid-October.

The ministry said 51% of Israelis were now in towns designated as either orange or red — signaling high infection rates.

The country has set a goal of reaching a vaccination rate of 150,000 people a day within a week, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying Saturday he hoped to inoculate over 2 million Israelis by the end of January.

Channel 12 News reported Sunday night that by the end of the week, 250 vaccination locations are expected to be operating throughout the country.

Sunday also saw Israel enter its third national lockdown since the start of the pandemic to beat back a resurgence of COVID-19. The lockdown has initially been set to last two weeks, but officials have warned an extension to a month is possible.

Israel began the vaccine drive last week with health workers, people over 60 and at-risk populations. The rest of the population must wait, but reports have emerged of hospitals inoculating people who were not in the aforementioned groups, including family members of hospital workers.

Edelstein warned that hospitals that do not follow the vaccination priority list would not receive more shots to administer.

“A hospital that starts vaccinating against priorities will need to watch the vaccination effort on television,” he said.

Meanwhile the Israel Teachers Union declared a labor dispute Sunday, protesting the fact that teachers were not being prioritized for vaccination, while schools continued to operate normally though the lockdown.

Secretary-general of the Israel Teachers’ Union Yaffa Ben-David speaks during a protest event in Tel Aviv on August 29, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“It is inconceivable that pedagogic workers who are on the front line will not be vaccinated,” union chief Yaffa Ben David said at a meeting of the Knesset Education Committee. “The teachers are terribly afraid.”

Edelstein has said he hopes to vaccinate teachers this week, in an attempt to help stabilize the troubled education system that has been in and out of closures over the past year.

Daily virus cases in Israel have been climbing upward in recent weeks, surpassing 3,000 on most days over the past week.

The latest lockdown rules bar Israelis from entering another person’s home; restrict movement to one kilometer (six-tenths of a mile) from home, with exceptions, such as for vaccinations; shut down commerce (except for essentials), leisure and entertainment; limit public transportation to 50% capacity; and limit workplaces that do not deal with customers face-to-face to 50% capacity. Fines for violators stand at NIS 500 ($155).

Under the terms for the lockdown proposed by the government, preschools, grades 1-4 and grades 11-12 were to have a full day of classes as usual, but grades 5-10 were to stay at home and use distance learning instead. However, the Knesset Education Committee convened on Sunday and voted to overturn the regulations, thereby keeping all students in the classroom.

Police set up temporary roadblocks on Route 1, outside Jerusalem, as Israel enters its 3rd nationwide lockdown, on December 27, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

During the lockdown, security forces will set up hundreds of checkpoints on highways around the country. Hebrew media reports indicated that the police presence on the roads would be sporadic during the day and bolstered during the nighttime hours.

The rules will be enforced by some 6,000 cops nationwide.

“Lockdowns save lives,” said coronavirus czar Nachman Ash on Sunday, shortly before the lockdown began.

“We are in a race between the rising morbidity and the vaccines,” added Ash. “The vaccine campaign is going exceptionally well… the vaccines are streaming into Israel according to plan and we will receive more during the coming weeks.”

Health officials have expressed optimism that the latest closure will be the nation’s last as it steps up its vaccination drive.

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