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With over 3,500 new cases, virus czar says fast decision needed on lockdown

Nachman Ash says infection rate can be lowered with a 3-week closure or 5 weeks of tightened restrictions; 3,594 new cases verified on Monday, with a 4.2% rate of positive tests

People shop in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market, December 21, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People shop in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market, December 21, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

National coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said on Tuesday that the country had reached a daily new caseload of over 3,500 newly confirmed infections, and that officials needed to make an immediate decision on sending the country into a full lockdown or tightening restrictions.

“This morning we are have around 3,500 [newly] verified coronavirus patients. We are considering going into lockdown,” Ash told Army Radio.

“A decision needs to be made now. Tightened restraint will take about five weeks. Full closure will be shorter — three weeks at the current infection rate,” Ash said.

The essential difference between tightened restraints and full lockdown is that the latter would also impact the education system and limit movement. Previous lockdowns have seen citizens restricted to just a few hundred meters from their homes other than for vital tasks.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Herzliya, December 20, 2020 (Flash90)

The Health Ministry announced Tuesday morning that 3,594 new coronavirus cases had been diagnosed the previous day, the highest total in months. The number of infections in Israel since the start of the pandemic reached 380,095.

The number of active cases in the country stood at 27,628, with 472 patients in serious condition, including 119 on ventilators. Another 154 were in moderate condition, with the rest showing mild or no symptoms.

The death toll stood at 3,111.

According to the ministry, 4.2 percent of tests returned positive on Monday, out of the 85,173 administered. That figure showed a continuation of the trend of the rate increasing — last week, the positivity rate hovered around 3%.

Amid the spiraling infections, the coronavirus cabinet on Monday voted to compel all Israelis entering the country from Wednesday at 10 p.m. to quarantine in state-run hotels, amid fears of a new, more contagious strain emerging from the United Kingdom.

Travelers stand at check-in desks at Terminal 2 of Heathrow Airport in west London on December 21, 2020 (Niklas HALLE’N / AFP)

Additionally, all foreign nationals will be banned from entering the country. Until now, foreign travelers have been allowed entry into Israel to attend Health Ministry-approved life-cycle events for first-degree relatives, and for several other reasons.

The cabinet’s decisions were initially in effect for 10 days.

COVID-19 vaccines arrive at the Ziv medical center in the northern Israeli city of Safed, on December 21, 2020 (David Cohen/Flash90)

Meanwhile on Monday, health providers nationwide began to vaccinate older members of the general public.

According to the Haaretz daily, around 11,000 people over the age of 60 were vaccinated, one day after some 15,000 medical workers received the inoculation. Around 270,000 Israelis have so far been notified that they are eligible to make an appointment to receive the vaccine.

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