Israel's Lockdown 'Isn't Effective,' Coronavirus Czar Says Amid Calls for Tighter Measures

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Crowds of people defy lockdown rules in Tel Aviv and enjoy the winter sun, January 2, 2021.
Crowds of people defy lockdown rules in Tel Aviv and enjoy the winter sun, January 2, 2021. Credit: Hadas Forosh

Israel’s coronavirus czar, Prof. Nachman Ash, said that the current lockdown measures in place “aren’t effective enough” and told the Kann public broadcaster that the Health Ministry intends to “demand a complete closure of the education system.”

“In order for it to influence [infection rates] as much as possible and last as little time as possible, it has to be effective,” Ash said.

The initial proposal for Israel’s third lockdown included restrictions on schools, but that changed under political and public pressure, and the education system largely operates as it did before the lockdown started a week ago.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he would hold “a discussion on a short and tight lockdown, which would enable a quick reopening of the economy.”

The statement did not specify what measures would be included in the proposal. Any new measures would have to be approved by the cabinet.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced on Saturday he will propose that the government tightens restrictions in a Sunday meeting.

Israel is currently under lockdown, its third since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, but measures and enforcement are generally more relaxed than previous ones. New daily confirmed infections have hit 6,000 people a day, with some 6.1% of of tests coming back positive, out of nearly 100,000 conducted per day.

Cellular phone data on people moving between cities or within their city shows that the current lockdown is not really effective, the ministry said.

There have been dozens of cases of Israelis who rec eived the vaccine but tested positive a few days later; it takes at least 10 days for the vaccine to start taking effect.

Israel confirmed 5,289 new cases over the weekend according to Health Ministry figures, bringing the total number of active cases in the country to 48,701. Some 1,243 patients are currently hospitalized, with 739 of them in serious condition and 177 on life support.

Israel has registered 3,384 COVID-19 related deaths since the start of the outbreak.

Genetic testing of 94 samples revealed 18 more cases of the coronavirus mutation first identified in the United Kingdom, the Health Ministry said Friday.

Thus far, there have been 23 cases of the new mutation found in Israel, six of which were confirmed to have originated abroad. There are about 400 more samples being sequenced, as part of the Health Ministry’s national effort for genetic sequencing.

The vaccination campaign continued, through the weekend. On Friday only 70,000 people received the shot, versus the weekday average of 150,000.

Of those vaccinated, 65% are 60 or older; this equals 650,000 people or 44% of the top priority group. Another 22% went to Israelis aged 40 to 59 — 215,000 people, or 11% of that age group. These recipients include health care workers and people with preexisting conditions, as well as a small number who received surplus vaccines.

Some 60,000 people aged 30 to 39 were vaccinated — 6% of the cohort — and 36,000 people aged 20-29. Another 7,000 people aged 16 to 19 received the vaccine, primarily youth with serious risk factors including transplant recipients, immune suppressed, and oncological patients.

Most of the vaccinations were given at the HMOs.

Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy said that people would start receiving their second dose in mid-January, at which point first doses for new patients may be halted for two weeks, as the country awaits additional vaccine shipments from Pfizer. Levy said the Moderna vaccines are expected to arrive in March, and Astra-Zeneca’s only during the third and fourth quarters of 2021.

The ministry expects to have some 2.2 million Israelis vaccinated by March. Another 400,000 or so are believed to have antibodies after being infected.

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