Nearly 4,000 new virus cases diagnosed, as number of vaccinated hits 210,000

Day before Israel enters its third national lockdown, Health Ministry says over 74,000 people got their first shots on Thursday

Health care workers take coronavirus test samples of Israelis in Modi'in, December 24, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Health care workers take coronavirus test samples of Israelis in Modi'in, December 24, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The rise in Israel’s coronavirus infection rate continued Friday, with the Health Ministry reporting nearly 4,000 new cases had been diagnosed the previous day.

With the addition of 3,958 diagnoses, the number of active cases stood at 33,808, out of a total of 393,036 since the pandemic began. Serious cases stood at 506 and the death toll was at 3,171.

As the ministry’s daily update on the previous day’s diagnoses usually rises as the day progresses, it was likely that the 4,000-mark would be breached later on.

Tests reached a record 98,409, with 4.1 percent coming back positive — around the rate of previous days this week.

Meanwhile the ministry also announced that over 74,000 people had been vaccinated against the virus Thursday, taking the total number of people to receive the first dose of the vaccine to 210,000.

A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Jerusalem, on December 24, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The latest spike in daily cases came a day before Israel enters a third national lockdown aimed at curbing the resurgence of COVID-19. It will begin Sunday at 5 p.m. and last for at least two weeks. The restrictions will be extended for an additional two weeks if morbidity rates do not decrease significantly. Senior health officials have signaled the extension is likely.

The rules will bar Israelis from entering another person’s home, except for immediate family members; restrict movement to 1 kilometer from home, with exceptions, such as for vaccinations; shut down commerce, leisure and entertainment; limit public transportation to 50% capacity; and limit workplaces that do not deal with customers face-to-face to 50% capacity.

Kindergartens and school grades 1-4 and 11-12 will study as usual during the lockdown, while grades 5-10 will study remotely.

Israel’s two previous lockdowns, in April and September, succeeded in bringing down infection numbers, but morbidity ballooned again as the closures were rolled back.

Israelis wearing face masks walk past the light rail near the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on December 21, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Fears have also grown in recent days that Britain’s new, more transmissible variant of the virus is spreading through the population. On Thursday the Health Ministry said five cases had been confirmed in the country, with reports indicating officials were examining dozens of other cases they suspected were of the new strain.

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

Shots were administered to medical staff from Sunday and Israelis in at-risk populations from Monday. Hospitals were set to join the effort next week, ramping up the campaign, with the prime minister and health officials saying Israel aspired to become the first country in the world to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went so far as to say Thursday that he believed the Jewish state would emerge from the pandemic “within a few weeks.” No other world leader has made such an assertion, and many have warned the pandemic will potentially take months more to defeat.

The Health Ministry is aiming by next week to be vaccinating 100,000 Israelis per day. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Thursday he wanted vaccinations to take place 24/7, including on the Jewish Sabbath.

Israel is currently second in the world in vaccinations per capita, according to the University of Oxford-run Our World in Data.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Thursday said the vaccines will soon be made available to people of all ages.

“In under a month, in a week or two, the vaccines will be opened to the young population as well,” he told Army Radio.

People wearing face masks as they take cover from the rain at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem on November 05, 2020 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

But while vaccination optimism reigns, many Israeli business owners faced fresh anxiety over the new lockdown, complaining of the government’s erratic policies and warning that they may not survive yet another forced closure.

Consultant firm CofaceBdi said Thursday that the third lockdown will cause an additional 7,500 businesses to shut down, in addition to the 75,000 that have already closed down this year due to the economic fallout of the pandemic.

The new lockdown will also end the so-called “green islands” program, which allowed travelers free rein in the tourist areas of Eilat and the Dead Sea.

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