Israel's Health Ministry’s Director-general: No Criteria Set for Exiting Lockdown

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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Prof. Chezy Levy receiving a coronavirus vaccine, December 19, 2020
Prof. Chezy Levy (right) receiving a coronavirus vaccine, December 19, 2020Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

The Ministry of Health’s director-general, Prof. Chezy Levy, said on Wednesday that no criteria have been set for exiting the lockdown, which takes effect on midnight Thursday and is scheduled to last for two weeks.

“We always talked about an R value of less than 1,”said Levy in reference to the contagion coefficient, which reflects the average number of people infected by anyone contracting the virus. In an interview to Kan Bet Radio, he added that the daily number of infected people has to be less than 1,000, and that criteria for exiting the lockdown will be established as it unfolds.

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Levy said the vaccine drive cannot yet influence the number of people that develop COVID-19. “We are not yet inoculated to an extent that confers herd immunity,” he said. “We have the second dose for all the people who received the first dose. I hope that by the end of this week we’ll complete the first round of vaccinations, and that by Sunday we’ll be able to start the second round.”

By Tuesday, the number of people in Israel who had received the first dose stood at almost one and a half million, with 115,000 getting the vaccine that day.

Levy commented on plans for the ultra-Orthodox school system to remain open during the lockdown, after the leader of the Lithuanian-Haredi faction, Rabbi Haim Kanyevski, ordered the Talmud Torah religious schools to continue operating normally.

“The Haredi education system must look just like the mainstream one” said Levy. “There is a problem here, we’ll have to keep talking to Haredi leaders with all our might, using all our measures including enforcement.”

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Kan Bet Radio. “I haven’t spoken with Rabbi Kanyevski. I did hear an unambiguous order he and Rabbi Gershon Edelstein gave to obey regulations and get vaccinated, and I’m sure we’ll see compliance across the country.”

The cabinet approved the format of the lockdown on Tuesday, which includes remote learning in the entire school system, except in schools for children with special needs and at-risk youth. Non-essential businesses will close and gatherings will be limited to five people in closed areas and 10 people outdoors. Cabinet members were expected to vote on these measures on Thursday.

Hadassah Medical Center announced that staff members who are not vaccinated cannot come to work during the lockdown, and that these days will be counted as vacation days. Over 1,000 of the hospital’s 6,500-strong staff have not been inoculated yet even though there is no shortage of vaccines. The ruling evoked protests by hospital employees.

In a letter sent to employees by the hospital’s deputy director for human resources, Hagai Philipson, he said employees must remain at home in light of the growing numbers of ill patients at the hospital. He said that “due to concerns over the spread of the British mutation and the increasing number of medical staff members who have contracted the virus, and out of concern for the wellbeing of patients and other staff, it was decided that only people who have been vaccinated or who have recovered from the virus or who are part of an experiment with the Israeli vaccine could come to work.”

Philipson also wrote that employees who were not vaccinated and could not come to work will be using their annual vacation days. The final decision on reporting these days will be made after the state decides about its employees who do not come to work. Medical staff have the highest priority for getting vaccinated, along with people aged over 60 or people who are at high risk for developing a serious illness if infected by the virus.

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