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'It's over,' Netanyahu recorded telling closed-door meeting

Top official: Israel in ‘final stages’ of COVID, showing world an exit strategy

Ex-virus czar says with a quarter of population having received 1st shot, country seeing clear evidence vaccine is working; number of seriously ill over 60 drops sharply

Ronni Gamzu, CEO of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and former virus czar receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov), on December 20, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Ronni Gamzu, CEO of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and former virus czar receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov), on December 20, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel is in the “final stages” of the coronavirus pandemic, a senior health official said Friday after data showed the country was seeing clear results of its massive vaccination drive.

“We are in the final stages of the coronavirus. Israel, with the scale of its vaccine drive, is showing the world that there is an exit strategy,” Ronni Gamzu, who was Israel’s COVID czar and has since returned to his job as director of Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, told Channel 12 news.

His assessment appears to be shared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was recorded earlier this week telling a closed-door meeting that “It’s over.”

“You all understand that everything we are talking about the corona is just compensation for the past. It’s over,” Netanyahu told members of a protest group representing independent business owners in leaked remarks recorded Wednesday and broadcast by Channel 12 on Friday.

The confidence comes with Israel having vaccinated nearly a quarter of the eligible population and clear signs the shots are having an impact.

Education worker receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Jerusalem, on January 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Thursday saw 56,716 Israelis receive their first inoculation, totaling 1,992,806, with another 64,366 getting their second shot, reaching 169,707 — by far the highest vaccination rate in the world, according to the Our World In Data website.

Netanyahu vowed last week that Israel would ramp up its vaccine drive further, to a target of administering 170,000 shots a day, as a new batch of hundreds of thousands of doses of Pfizer’s vaccine touched down at Ben Gurion Airport.

By late March, Israel will have vaccinated 5.2 million citizens against the coronavirus, according to a plan drawn up by the Health Ministry.

Channel 12 revealed Friday that the percentage of seriously ill over 60’s out of the total confirmed cases had dropped drastically in recent days from 2.5% to 1.5%.

“We got used to seeing that 2.5% of the seriously ill were over sixty, that has suddenly dropped,” Gamzu said.

At least 75% of the population over 60 has received at least one shot already, indicating that the vaccine was already having an effect, even though its impact was only expected to come after the second dose.

“This 1.5% is unprecedented, I have not seen this throughout the whole period. The vaccine has a clear effect,” he said. “This shows the beginning of the end.”

Gamzu praised the government and Netanyahu for securing the vaccinations but said the real credit was due to the Israeli public.

“The major success belongs to the people of Israel, the public that has gone to vaccinate with great faith, saying I believe in the vaccination,” said Gamzu. “This is not something you are seeing everywhere around the world and it needs to be said.”

The optimism comes as Israel said Friday that all Israelis over the age of 45 will be eligible to receive the first COVID-19 shot through their health providers starting Sunday as Israel’s vaccine drive continues to expand.

A chart featuring the leading countries in COVID-19 vaccinations administered per capita, according to the Our World In Data website, January 15, 2021. (Screenshot)

Coinciding with the launch of the vaccination campaign has been a surge in coronavirus cases, with over 9,000 daily new infections diagnosed in recent days.

There has also been a sharp rise in fatalities and the number of patients in serious condition from COVID-19 complications.

Updated figures published Friday morning by the Health Ministry said 9,192 new cases had been confirmed the previous day — the fourth in a row with over 9,000 cases. However, the rate of positive tests, 7.7 percent, was roughly half of the record reached in September. The number of daily tests has grown dramatically and stood at 123,111 on Thursday.

Initial figures for Friday showed a similar positivity rate of 7.2% — 1,807 cases out of 25,230 tests conducted by 10 a.m.

However, Gamzu said that both the number of overall new cases and of those seriously ill appeared to be leveling off, and the trend was turning.

The number of total cases since the pandemic began, which passed half a million Monday, reached 533,026, including 79,084 active cases — a new all-time record. Of them, 1,141 people were in serious condition, including 351 listed as being critical and 291 on ventilators.

The death toll surged to 3,892 — an increase of 49 since Thursday morning.

Police temporary roadblock on Route 1 outside Jerusalem on January 15, 2021, during a third nationwide full lockdown, in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Due to the high morbidity and mortality figures, the government last week tightened lockdown measures that took effect a week earlier, ordering the closure of schools and businesses.

Netanyahu urged Israelis to adhere to government-mandated virus restrictions and said no decision had yet been made on extending the third nationwide lockdown, which health officials have signaled will last beyond the original January 21 end date.

Police geared up to significantly expand enforcement of the lockdown over the weekend, setting up checkpoints that will operate 24 hours a day.

Police said dozens of checkpoints were set up along main highways, as well as within cities and towns. The increased enforcement measures began at 6 a.m. on Friday.

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