Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have agreed to impose a third national lockdown to curb a surge in new COVID-19 infections, Israeli television reported Tuesday.
The decision came after Health Ministry Yuli Edelstein said Israel has entered a “third wave” of the virus and has no choice but to enter a full lockdown.
But while Netanyahu and Gantz agreed the public needs time to prepare for another lockdown, they differed on when the sweeping restrictions will come into effect, with Netanyahu preferring as soon as possible and Gantz backing a two-week preparation period, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
Both Channel 13 news and Kan said the Health Ministry wants the lockdown to begin next week, with the latter citing concerns over gatherings over the New Year.
The government was set to convene Wednesday, when it was expected to weigh renewed lockdown measures. It wasn’t clear if there was sufficient support among ministers to approve another lockdown and with the Knesset dissolving Tuesday and fresh elections coming up it was likely that the decision could be affected by political considerations.
Netanyahu has faced sweeping criticism for his handling of the coronavirus and the accompanying economic crisis. However, he has won praise for securing vaccines for Israel, which started its inoculation drive this week.
If approved, the lockdown is expected to include the shuttering of commerce, halting of in-person classes and a ban on traveling more than a kilometer from one’s home unless for essential needs.
New daily infections would need to drop below 1,000 before the lockdown measures are eased, Kan said.
The TV reports came as the Health Ministry said another 1,302 coronavirus cases were confirmed since midnight, bringing the number of infections since the pandemic began to 381,454.
The ministry said 3,730 cases were confirmed Monday, the highest number in months.
The number of active cases in the country stood at 27,551, with 499 patients in serious condition, including 116 on ventilators. Another 161 were in moderate condition, with the rest showing mild or no symptoms.
The death toll stood at 3,128.
So far Tuesday, 37,988 tests had been conducted, 3.4 percent of which the Health Ministry said came back positive.
Also Tuesday, Netanyahu said he had been reassured by pharmaceutical executives that COVID-19 vaccines will be effective against a new, more contagious strain emerging from the United Kingdom.
“It’s likely, they say, [the vaccine] could even reach 95% effectiveness,” he said.
Netanyahu in recent days has sounded the alarm about the new strain and the high-level coronavirus cabinet on Sunday required all Israelis coming from the UK, Denmark, and South Africa to quarantine at designated hotels. It also coronavirus barred entry to Israel of all non-nationals traveling from those countries.
The compulsory quarantine requirement at state-run facilities will apply to all Israelis on Wednesday afternoon.
Concerns over the emergence of the new strain came as Israel kicked off a national vaccination program on Sunday.
According to Edelstein, 71,876 Israelis have been vaccinated as of Tuesday night.
“We’re only at the start of the path, go get vaccinated,” he was quoted saying in a Health Ministry statement.
Medical workers were given the first injections and on Monday, vaccinations were opened up to those aged 60 and up.
The government has not yet specified when the vaccines will be made available to the general public.