Israel’s coronavirus czar on Thursday predicted health officials won’t request another extension of the nationwide lockdown beyond its January 31 end date, as daily infection rates begin falling from record peaks.
“The data is encouraging — we’ve already seen for several days a curbing and even decline in morbidity,” Nachman Ash told Channel 12 news.
Ash noted the transmission rate dipped below 1 for the first time since late October, meaning the outbreak is slowing.
“I very much hope the trend continues and we won’t have to extend the lockdown,” he said.
The tightened lockdown measures now in force were set to expire Thursday night, but ministers agreed to extend the restrictions for 10 more days, after a record 10,086 new cases were confirmed Monday. Daily infections have since declined, with the Health Ministry reporting Thursday evening that 8,205 people were diagnosed with the coronavirus a day earlier.
Despite the slowdown in the spread of the virus, the numbers of daily fatalities and people hospitalized in serious condition remain at near record highs, with 54 more COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday. Ash cautioned it would “take time” until the number of COVID-19 patients in serious condition drops.
“This is the reason that we asked to extend the lockdown by ten days. This is a tool that has proved itself and causes a decline in morbidity and this time we also have the effect of the vaccines,” Ash said.
In a separate interview with Army Radio, Ash said the national vaccine drive may be opened to all age groups as soon as next week.
“The next stage is opening it up to everyone; there is no longer any point in this age priority listing,” he said. “There is a possibility that it will be next week. We will have a meeting and decide.”
Israel’s mass vaccination program kicked off by giving the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech shots to medical workers, those over age 60, and at-risk groups. As the drive has raced ahead the age limit has steadily dropped, going down to 40 this week, though on Wednesday two health maintenance organizations said they would vaccinate anyone over 35. Vaccination has also already been opened to teachers of all ages and pregnant women.
A Health Ministry committee, meanwhile, recommended the coronavirus vaccine next be offered to teenagers aged 16 to 18, to enable the winter bagrut matriculation exams to go ahead.
According to the recommendation, which the Health Ministry approved, the teenagers will begin receiving the vaccines starting next week. Schools have been closed as part of the current lockdown measures.
The committee, which met Thursday evening, approved vaccinating women in the third trimester of pregnancy, but rejected a proposal to vaccinate people who have recovered from COVID-19.
It was also debating whether to open up the vaccine campaign to everyone.
In addition, many vaccination centers have been offering shots to all who want them at the end of each day in order to prevent extra vaccine units, which must be used within a set amount of time, from going to waste.
According to the latest Health Ministry figures, 2,407,060 people have received a first vaccine dose and 801,138 the second.
Israel is leading all countries in vaccinations on a per capita basis, with 35 out of every 100 Israelis having received a dose of a vaccine, according to the Oxford-based Our World in Data.