Israel Extends Lockdown, Demands All International Arrivals Present COVID Test

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Passengers wearing full protective suits and masks push their luggage trolleys at the departures area at Ben-Gurion International Airport, January 19, 2021.
Passengers wearing full protective suits and masks push their luggage trolleys at the departures area at Ben-Gurion International Airport, January 19, 2021.Credit: JACK GUEZ / AFP
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

The cabinet unanimously approved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal to extend the lockdown on Tuesday evening, setting a new endpoint at midnight on January 31.

The cabinet also approved a proposal compelling anyone entering Israel to be tested for coronavirus 72 hours before takeoff, as well as approving an extension until February 10 of the permission given the Shin Bet security service to track people infected with the virus.

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The stricter lockdown was approved on January 8 and was supposed to end in two days. The coordinator of the campaign against the virus, Prof. Nachman Ash, said at the cabinet meeting that the current target is to vaccinate 250,000 people a day.

The Health Ministry announced on Tuesday that it recommends that pregnant women get vaccinated “in order to avoid getting COVID-19 with a higher probability of developing complications.” The ministry particularly warned women with underlying illnesses or those who come into contact with the public. The statement says that “pregnant women who contract the virus have a higher probability of getting seriously ill, more than their cohorts in the general population. This requires extra caution in maintaining social distancing and in wearing masks.”

The Prime Minister referred for the first time to the current wave of violating regulations in ultra-Orthodox communities, saying: “I call on all this country’s citizens, including those who took part yesterday in that scandalous wedding in Bnei Brak, to stop breaking the law. This is tantamount to shedding blood. I expect the police to use an iron fist against all transgressors.”

Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv during the third lockdown, January 19, 2021Credit: Hadas Parush

Interior Minister Arye Dery, leader of Shas, said at the meeting that “the incitement against the ultra-Orthodox is breaking all records in recent days, and regrettably this includes not only members of the opposition, but also people sitting here at the cabinet meeting.”

In response to the extension of tracking by the Shin Bet, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel issued a statement: “Only last Sunday, an expanded panel of the High Court of Justice had harsh words to say about the continued tracking. The cabinet is unable to stop or restrict the use of this tool, despite its low effectiveness and its driving people into extreme isolation. We call on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Knesset not to approve this decision. If it does, we will turn to the High Court of Justice with an urgent petition to rule on this matter.”

Between Tuesday and Wednesday, 7,380 Israelis contracted the virus and 36 coronavirus-related deaths were reported. There are 1,147 patients in serious condition, with 293 of them on respirators. Forty-four thousand people were vaccinated in that period, with 1,906 people hospitalized.

On a visit to Beit Shemesh on Tuesday, Netanyahu said that “the mutation is raging around the world, with some European countries talking about a lockdown lasting until April. That’s not the situation here, but we might have to extend the lockdown for a short period due to the high infection rates. Our lockdowns work and I’m sure we’ll see the results in the coming days. What works is the lockdown and the vaccine.”

During his visit, Netanyahu appealed to the ultra-Orthodox community and urged it to get vaccinated. Since the beginning of the third lockdown, dozens of Haredi schools of the extremist factions continued to operate almost unimpeded. In recent days, some of the more mainstream Haredi streams reopened their educational institutions, after directors received the blessing of their spiritual leader, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky.

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