Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday said the nationwide lockdown to stem the coronavirus pandemic would not be lifted after the Jewish holidays end in mid-October, as originally planned, warning it could take much longer to sufficiently drive down the coronavirus rates.
The prime minister’s comments came as Israel’s health situation grew increasingly dire, with thousands of new coronavirus cases reported each day, overwhelming hospitals, and COVID-19 deaths steadily climbing.
“The numbers [of infected] are climbing, they will rise even more. The lockdown will take no less than a month and possibly a lot more time,” Netanyahu said.
He said the decision to lift the lockdown “won’t be based on a timeframe but rather on the number of infected and other factors.”
It was unclear whether Netanyahu was counting from the beginning of the lockdown before the Rosh Hashanah holiday, on September 18, or from the tightening of the rules on Friday, September 25.
On schools, Netanyahu also said the government wants to reopen kindergartens and first and second grades in “capsules,” but did not specify when.
Schools and most businesses have been shuttered in an effort to bring down the soaring infection rates, which have climbed to over 8,000 daily cases on some days. Officials had previously warned the prospective end date of the lockdown — after the Sukkot holiday on October 10 — could be pushed back.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said earlier Tuesday that he expected the national lockdown to last beyond that and that in contrast to the first wave, the strict regulations will be lifted slowly.
“There is no chance that the lockdown will be lifted in a week and a half, immediately after Simhat Torah — unequivocally. There is no scenario that in ten days we will lift everything and say, ‘Everything is over, everything is fine,'” Edelstein told Kan news.
“We’ve seen the lessons from the first wave of illness, and this time the exit from the lockdown will be done gradually and responsibly,” Edelstein said.
Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy and his deputy, Itamar Grotto, have both also said that they do not believe Israel will have the virus outbreak under control by October 11 and that they expect the lockdown will have to be extended.
“There may be slight changes after three weeks, here or there, but the closure will last longer because there’s nothing we can do — we need a longer period to lower the numbers,” Grotto told the Ynet news site on Tuesday.
In a statement released by his office on Monday evening, Netanyahu set out a numbered list of items to be discussed when the so-called coronavirus cabinet convenes on Wednesday, with the health system’s preparations to treat 1,500 gravely ill patients by Thursday, October 1, at the top of the list.
The coronavirus cabinet will also discuss setting goals and indicators for a gradual emergence from Israel’s second national lockdown, as well as progress on vaccines and the purchase and use of rapid COVID-19 tests.
Ministers will discuss the status of the country’s enforcement of the regulations, as well as increasing fines and sanctions for those found violating restrictions. The cabinet will also discuss the use of digital tools to combat the pandemic, as well as a focused campaign on the wearing of masks and maintaining social distancing.
Also in the works are talks about the education system and plans to return to school, as well as assistance programs to the elderly.
Israel’s coronavirus death toll passed 1,500 on Monday night, the latest Health ministry data showed, with over 500 new deaths recorded in some three weeks as the fatality rate per capita surpassed that of the United States.
The death toll stood at 1,507 on Tuesday afternoon, as new diagnoses and seriously ill patients remained on the rise, as did the percentage of tests coming back positive.
Israel had a total of 233,554 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, with 65,025 active cases, 812 of them serious, and 283 in moderate condition.
Due to the Yom Kippur holiday, test numbers were very low Monday, with 8,105 carried out, compared to some 50,000-60,000 daily tests over the past week. But the percentage of positive virus tests remained on the rise, standing at 14.8 percent Monday.