COVID Lockdown May Be Imposed This Month, Israeli Health Ministry Director Warns

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Health Ministry Director General Nachman Ash at a vaccination center in Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, last month.
Health Ministry Director General Nachman Ash at a vaccination center in Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, last month.Credit: Jonathan Zindel/Flash 90

Health Ministry Director General Prof. Nachman Ash said Thursday that if the rate of coronavirus infection does not slow, a lockdown might have to be imposed this month.

Speaking with Army Radio, he said that at this point he did not think the move would be necessary. He added, however, that if the number of people who were severely ill with COVID-19 and on ventilators increased to the point where the quality of hospital care was affected, the Health Ministry would have to reconsider the issue.

“We still have not decided on a specific number [of severe cases that would lead to a lockdown],” Ash said. “We are assessing the ability of the health care system to increase the number it can handle and enable us to delay a decision. If, for example, the number of serious cases turns into milder ones, then we’ll be able to accommodate more patients. We are preparing for all this now to ensure that any harm to the economy is minimized.”

He stressed: “We don’t want to get to a lockdown … but reality may force us to take the necessary measures.” He added that should the booster-shot campaign lead to a drop in infection rates, “it could prevent or delay stricter measures.”

“For now, I would give the third vaccine and other measures time to work,” Ash said. “We’ll have to make another decision in two or three weeks.”

The Health Ministry reported 3,241 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, with 3.28 percent of all tests coming back positive. Hospitals nationwide are caring for 241 serious cases, 66 of them critical and 51 of them on ventilators. On Wednesday 262 people got their booster vaccine. To date, 6,503 people have died from COVID-19, it said.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said Wednesday night that the government would only impose a lockdown as a last resort to stopping the spread of COVID-19. It can be contained if the public heeds government calls to be vaccinated and obeys directives, he said. Horowitz said that there were no exact benchmarks for triggering restrictions or a lockdown.

“If we find that we have no choice, we’ll be forced to do it,” Horowitz said after his parents were administered booster shots in front of television cameras. “It’s not fated. We are trying to curb contagion and buy more time to complete vaccination. If we succeed, we’ll be able to avoid severe restrictions. We will do everything to avoid a lockdown. Everyone should act responsibly and do what’s necessary.”

The coronavirus cabinet approved plans to tighten restrictions starting Sunday by expanding the requirement to wear masks even in open areas where there are 100 people or more are gathered. In another two weeks, Green Pass rules will begin to be applied also to children age 12 and under. In addition, vaccinated adults caring for children with the coronavirus will be required to go into quarantine.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said this week that “the odds are that we won’t be able to avoid a lockdown if we don’t vaccinate at the needed pace.”

On Thursday, he added that government policy was aimed at “keeping Israel open, but not to reach a situation where hospitals are telling us ‘there’s no room.’ We know when to apply the brakes.”

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement Thursday that “Israel has sufficient inventories of vaccines both for current and future needs. A number of deliveries have arrived in recent days and they will continue.”

“For reasons of confidentiality, the exact number of vaccine doses is not being disclosed,” it added. “Israeli citizens who have not been vaccinated should get vaccinated – there are enough vaccines for everyone. We will defeat the delta [variant] only if the rate of immunization exceeds the rate of the pandemic’s contagion.“

The Prime Minister's Office said Bennett was in continuous contact with the CEO of Pfizer as well as with the health minister and senior health care officials. It stressed that there was no vaccine shortage.

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