1. Vaccines are here, vaccines are here: The first shipment of vaccines arrived in Israel Wednesday morning, a day ahead of the previously reported arrival date.
- There at the airport to welcome the doses to Israel was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has a bit of thing for tarmac campaigning (Na’ama Issachar anybody?), looking, as one colleague put it, a bit Dear Leader-esque.
- Unlike the fanfare of the first major inoculation drive kicking off in the UK a day earlier, the press appears to have little appetite for the premier’s vaccine campaigning, giving it fairly little real estate. Perhaps that is because, according to several reports, most people won’t get the shots until the actual vaccination drive kicks off in another 12 days, and even then, the numbers will remain fairly small until they ramp up in the coming months.
- Walla news highlights the fact that Netanyahu has signed up to be the first poked with the shot, “as an example to the public.”
- Netanyahu is so excited to be first, in fact, he makes sure to tweet it to all of his Persian-speaking followers.
- According to Channel 12 news, the first shipment is something of a pilot program, to practice the transportation and storage of the vaccines, which must be stored at -70°C (-94°F) and used within five days of their removal from cold storage.
- An informed source tells ToI that 100,000 doses will likely arrive Thursday, which will be the real first shipment.
- “We are starting to see the end of the pandemic. I hope we’ll start vaccinating in Israel in the coming months. Now we need to think about the day after,” former Health Ministry head Moshe Bar-Siman Tov tells Channel 13 news.
- “This is a happy event. I hope there will be a convoy of planes that will fill our fridges with vaccines. The faster we move ahead with vaccination — the faster we can exit this crisis,” Dr. Erez Birnbaum, the head of Assuta Hospital in Ashdod, tells Army Radio.
2. A vaxxing issue: So how will the vaccination roll-out look? Once Netanyahu gets his shots, everyone else will need to line up for theirs.
- According to Walla, the first group to be vaccinated will be medical staff, followed six days later by the general public, though most reports note that those deemed highest-risk will be first in line.
- Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch, however, tells Army Radio that there’s a possibility soldiers in operational positions may get the lance right after medical workers, but before everyone else.
- In any case, it’s likely that the vaccine won’t be available to the actual general public for several more months. “If the vaccines arrive here soon, I would say that by March, the health workers and elderly will be covered,” Hadassah Medical Center virologist Rivka Abulafia-Lapid tells ToI’s Nathan Jeffay. “And then in April we will start with the rest of the population.”
- A spokesperson for the Maccabi health care provider tells him that they are hoping to get 20,000 vaccines into people’s arms a day. “It’s realistic,” she says. “It’ll be challenging and not easy, but we did 20,000 a day at the peak of flu vaccination last year, so it is possible.”
- Israel Hayom reports that the healthcare organizations are hoping to eventually be able to give out 100,000 shots a day, though it’s unclear if they mean 100,000 each for the four main groups, or 100,000 total. To achieve this, according to the paper, officials have begun planning to turn paramedics and army medics into shot-givers to bolster the nurses.
- “For years medics have been vaccinating soldiers. The actual action of vaccination is not complicated,” an HMO source tells the paper.
- Haaretz’s Asaf Ronel writes that even with the vaccines being rolled out, some questions remain, including how effective the new vaccine is in preventing infection, and not just illness: “Will the virus manage to invade the body of inoculated people and multiply to the point at which they become contagious, or will the pre-activated immune system defeat the virus first? Continued monitoring of people who have been vaccinated, as well as other studies on people to be inoculated after approval is given, will resolve this question.”
3. Mallrats: Many note that trust will also be a major factor, and the government’s decisions on malls and curfews isn’t exactly building that up.
- “Two days ago: curfew/ Yesterday: the curfew is canceled/ Today: Malls are opened,” reads a headline in Yedioth Ahronoth.
- The paper’s Sever Plotzker calls the situation a sign of the “failure” of the coronavirus cabinet, which he says has also become a campaign vehicle with elections rearing up.
- “It’s no surprise that under these conditions Israel is being pushed from lockdown to lockdown, as the government and Knesset decide on contradictory moves from day to day, becoming more and more chaotic, incomprehensible and unreliable. There’s another country that excels at this for the worse, the US under [Donald] Trump, where the virus runs wild at the level of a national disaster,” he scolds.
- Channel 12 calls the about-face a “farce.”
- But it also reports that “Israel will get to tightened restraint next week or in two weeks at the most,” referring to a lockdown-lite scheme.
- “More than anything else, the decision to impose the curfew and later apparently rolling back the move reflect the problems that have been afflicting the coronavirus cabinet and the entire cabinet of ministers in their handling of the pandemic for a long time: their hesitation to deal with specific sectors of the population where the spread of the virus is the greatest and the resulting ease with which liberties are denied the country’s population as a whole,” writes Amos Harel in Haaretz. “Sometimes it’s as if the government has almost been on automatic pilot: The entire population will bear the brunt of new restrictions and surely they already know why.”
- “I don’t love the fact that they are opening the whole economy at a time when infections are rising,” Health Ministry head Chezy Levy tells Army Radio, in what’s probably the understatement of the year.
- It’s not like a curfew was going to save the day anyway. “From the morning I tried to find a single expert who could explain to me the plus of a curfew, and how it is supposed to stop infection and what to do, and I couldn’t find anyone,” writes Kan’s Liel Kaiser.
4. A new challenge rises: It’s not shots that rule the front pages and the media conversation, but rather the decision by MK Gideon Sa’ar to split off from Likud and start his own party: New Hope.
- Pundits aren’t sure how much hope he actually brings, but he definitely injects excitement into the upcoming election circus.
- A poll commissioned by 103FM and put together in mere hours — i.e., unreliable in the extreme — gives Sa’ar a whopping 17 seats in elections. Trust it at your own risk, and many pundits do, or at least see him mounting a serious challenge to Netanyahu.
- Yedioth devotes three full pages to his departure, with columnist Sima Kadmon writing that Sa’ar will exact a price from Netanyahu in return for the Likud leader’s “petty” campaign against him over the last two years.
- Sa’ar’s comments about Netanyahu, she writes, were harsher than even his biggest enemies have leveled, and the prime minister should be worried, along with Yamina leader Naftali Bennett — “Netanyahu because of the seats that will go toward Sa’ar; and Bennett because Sa’ar offers the right that is sick of Netanyahu an alternative that may be easier for them to join up with.”
- “His new party has the potential to redraw the political map in the next elections and even prevent them,” writes Tal Shalev in Walla, referring to several assessments that Netanyahu will be cowed into canceling the elections and giving Gantz the premiership.
- ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur goes as far as predicting that Sa’ar will cost Netanyahu the premiership, should elections in fact happen.
- “Netanyahu was already in trouble before Sa’ar’s Tuesday announcement that he was launching his own party. Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party has been polling at between 19 and 24 seats for several months now, and Bennett is widely believed to be seeking to oust Netanyahu from power. If the polls are even close to right — if Bennett can draw even 15 seats on election day — Netanyahu will not have enough seats alone to ensure the current prime minister is also the next one,” he writes. “Nor will Netanyahu have any willing partners across the aisle. After his refusal to fulfill his rotation deal with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, it will be hard to find a political leader in the current Knesset willing to sign a similar agreement with him in the next one.”
5. Into the great unknown: With all this danger lurking, the right-wing Israel Hayom wastes no time in going on the attack
- “Sa’ar’s gamble,” reads the top headline in the decidedly pro-Likud and anti-Sa’ar tabloid.
- The paper’s Mati Tuchfeld calls him “brave,” in a sort of backhanded insult. “Not everyone would dare to embark on a political adventure into the unknown, especially someone like Sa’ar, whose independent political moves have been failures.”
- Amnon Lord, in the same paper, doesn’t even bother with the niceties, accusing him of trying to split up the “nationalist camp” and help the left.
- “There is no getting around the real intention behind Sa’ar’s move: to split the right and crown himself, Yamina head Naftali Bennett, Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid, or former IDF Chief Gadi Eisenkot – assuming he enters politics – the leader of Israel’s right.”
- “Sa’ar did something you never do,” Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin tells Army Radio. “We’re already seen cases where Likud MKs go their own way and then fail and end their paths. This feels like a rerun of Moshe Kahlon, who in the end joined a government under Netanyahu.”
- But Haaretz’s Yossi Verter writes that Sa’ar won’t come crawling back to Netanyahu: “Sa’ar will not be the new Benny Gantz, and will never crawl to the next Netanyahu government. He seeks to succeed Netanyahu, not to serve as his safety net. One can also assume that he won’t serve under Yair Lapid. By announcing his intention to run independently, Sa’ar took a big risk – an election might not be called after all. He will then be left with nothing, waiting for who knows what.”
- Meanwhile, it’s not clear that the left is running to put their eggs in Sa’ar’s basket to make him the anti-Netanyahu savior he hopes to become: “Sa’ar is not the answer to what plagues Israel,” writes Dan Perry in a blog post for ToI. “In declaring a run for prime minister, he essentially proposed that what plagues Israel is Netanyahu’s comportment. It is true, to a degree: no one who has lived through the Donald Trump presidency will disrespect toxicity again. But what is actually killing Israel is the right-wing policies that Sa’ar does not disavow.”