In 'One Final Effort,' Israel Headed for Strict Coronavirus Lockdown Starting Friday

New measures, including shutting most schools and workplaces, set to last for two weeks

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Protesters block traffic along a main street in a demonstration against an impending tightened lockdown, Tel Aviv, January 5, 2020.
Protesters block traffic along a main street in a demonstration against an impending tightened lockdown, Tel Aviv, January 5, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

The cabinet voted Tuesday to approve tighter lockdown measures, including shutting most schools and workplaces, amid Israel's ongoing third nationwide lockdown, which began on December 27.

The new regulations, to be voted on individually in another meeting on Wednesday, will go into effect at midnight between Thursday and Friday and last 14 days.

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They will constitute "one final effort" as the country presses ahead with its rapid vaccine rollout, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

All schools will move to remote learning, apart from special education and at-risk youth programs. Only workplaces considered essential will remain open.

Regarding travel abroad, the ministers decided that only those who purchased an airline ticket before the new measures go into effect would be allowed to fly, but that specific approvals to fly in certain cases would be granted by a special committee.

All incoming travelers will be placed in a state-run quarantine facility, and would be released only after having tested negative for the coronavirus.

All ministers voted in favor of the tighter measures, apart from Interior Minister Arye Dery and Religious Services Minister Yaakov Avitan, both from ultra-Orthodox party Shas, who abstained from voting, as the measures include shutting synagogues and religious schools. Likud’s David Amsalem was the only one to vote against the measures, as they don’t bar protests.

Gantz announced on Tuesday that he will not agree to harm the right to protest or to restrict the courts during the tightened lockdown.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein described protests as an “epidemiological risk,” but said that any steps to limit protests will lead to media accusations of a “political lockdown, and some of the public will be persuaded of that.”

Education Minister Yoav Gallant assented to the new measures, saying he hoped for a “short and tight” lockdown, amid widespread resistance to closing schools.

Earlier Tuesday, Edelstein called for a strict, full lockdown, following an emergency meeting with senior ministry officials regarding the steep rise in coronavirus infection rates.

On Monday, 11.09 percent of all coronavirus tests came back positive. 

Israel is leading the world in COVID-19 vaccinations, having innoculated nearly 15 percent of its 9.3 million population. Officials hope Israel can emerge from the pandemic as early as February, should the program maintain its speed.

But new cases have skyrocketed since the vaccination campaign began in late December, reaching a daily tally of over 8,300 on Tuesday, the highest in months.

Meanwhile, the Clalit health maintenance organization announced on Tuesday that it will halt additional appointments for the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine until stocks are replenished, offering only the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The HMO said it will provide the first dose to those who already have confirmed appointments.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry cut off the vaccine supply to Ichilov Hospital, which runs Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square vaccination tent, after the city vaccinated most of its teaching staff in violation of the ministry's instructions.

“This is a matter of national resources and we must address it as such,” Edelstein said when ordering the halt to supplies because teachers do not belong to the priority groups of those over age 60 or with preexisting conditions. The Tel Aviv Municipality said the closure of the vaccination tent is temporary.

Even before the planned tightening, Israelis have been required to stay mostly at home, many shops have been shuttered and public transport has been limited.

Public anger has risen over the government's perceived inconsistent handling of the crisis. Israel will hold an election on March 23, its fourth in two years, after constant infighting in Netanyahu's coalition.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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