Coronavirus Live: Almost 2 Million Israelis to Begin Receiving Second Vaccine Dose

Four cases of South African mutation found in Israel ■ Israel starts third lockdown with rise in new cases, 1.7 million vaccinated ■ Police report clashes with lockdown violators across Israel ■ First shipment of Moderna vaccine arrives in Israel

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A patient receiving a vaccination in a health maintenance organization in Jerusalem, January 6, 2021
A patient receiving a vaccination in a health maintenance organization in Jerusalem, January 6, 2021 Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

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Authorities in Israel, as well as the West Bank and Gaza, are grappling with the current increase in coronavirus cases, which has prompted directives to curb its spread but also an effort to mitigate the economic consequences of the crisis.

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Israel has entered a third nationwide lockdown, and has severely limited the entry of foreigners into the country as cases continue to spike. Israel also announced that anybody arriving from abroad will be required to immediately get a coronavirus test and quarantine at home for two weeks.

Israel currently has 63,440 active cases; 3,587 people have died. In the West Bank, there are 8,793 active cases and 1,262 deaths, and in Gaza 8,906 active cases and 416 deaths.


9:04 P.M. Israel to start vaccinating teaching staff

Israel’s health maintenance organizations (HMOs) are expected to begin vaccinating teaching staff from Wednesday, with a focus on teachers in the special education system who are working during the current lockdown.

In a meeting over the weekend, the HMOs were told that 220,000 vaccine doses would be allocated for teaching staff. The vaccine doses will be distributed among the HMOs on Tuesday. (Ido Efrati)

6.20 P.M. Israel to begin second doses of COVID-19 vaccine

Israel is set to start administering the second dosage of the Pfizer-BioNTech inoculation, three weeks after the beginning of its vaccination campaign.

Almost 2 million Israelis have received the first shot, at a rate of over 150,000 vaccinations per day.

Meanwhile, Israel’s health maintenance organizations (HMOs) will continue to provide first round doses, but at a far slower pace and depending on current supply.

According to sources in the HMOs, the leftover doses at some of the organizations are intended to “close gaps” in the coming weeks, and to focus on areas with a high percentage of over 60s and people with serious medical conditions who have yet to be vaccinated.

The HMOs are not due to open further registration for first doses, at least until stock is replenished. Health sector sources said further vaccines are due to arrive this week. (Ido Efrati)

2:22 P.M. Four cases of South African mutation found in Israel

The Health Ministry announced Saturday that it had identified four cases of the South African coronavirus variant in Israel.

Four cases were found among 15 samples that came in to the ministry's central virus lab for rapid sequencing.

They represent two different chains of infection, the ministry said: one sample came from a person who returned from South Africa, and anothers from a family that had been infected by someone who returned from the country.

The ministry stressed that the South African mutation, like the U.K. mutation, is more contagious than other strains, but does not seem to cause more serious illness. (Ido Efrati) Read the full story here.


8:53 P.M. Police minister says tightened lockdown restrictions will be strictly enforced

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana said that the police will strictly enforce the restrictions of the tightened lockdown that went into effect on Thursday at midnight.

"There will be significant enforcement. It's better for those who don't have to leave the house to stay in," Ohana said, adding that the police will not allow selective enforcement to take place.

Incoming police commissioner Kobi Shabtai said that "some 220 roadblocks have been set up across the country. There are additional forces in rural areas." (Josh Breiner)

5:30 P.M. Public security minister doubles down on denying vaccines to prisoners

In response to the attorney general's instruction to allow for the vaccination of prisoners, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana responded with a sharply worded letter, reiterating his stance.

"You have, like any other interested party, until the February 4 to submit your names to one of the party slates campaigning for the 24th Knesset. In the case that you are elected to the Knesset and enter the government, you will surely be able to [make such decisions]," Ohana wrote. "Until then, the responsibility for all the bodies under the authority of the Defense and Public Security Ministries rests on my shoulders, and the law and duty to the public will be fulfilled by me and not by you. My decision will stand as it is."

According to the minister, he instructed that prison staff be given preference over prisoners for vaccinations because staff members must leave and return to the prisons – putting them at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus. "After the vaccination of the staff is complete, I will only consider the vaccination of prisoners in relation to the progression of the vaccine campaign among the general population of Israelis who are not incarcerated," Ohana added. "I have coordinated my stance with my colleague who appointed Prof. Grotto – Health Minister Yuli Edelstein." (Josh Breiner)

4:29 P.M. AG orders Ohana to allow Palestinian prisoners to be vaccinated

The Attorney General’s Office informed Public Security Minister Amir Ohana on Friday that he must allow the vaccination of prisoners.

The letter sent to Ohana stated that the Prison Service must start vaccinating inmates without any further delay, saying he has no authority to “punish” prisoners by depriving them of their rights.

Ohana instructed the Israel Prison Service in December not to inoculate Palestinian security prisoners, despite Health Ministry’s guidelines that prisoners should be part of the second group of Israelis to be vaccinated against coronavirus, together with security personnel. (Josh Breiner)

2:43 P.M. Police issue over 3,000 fines on first day of Israel's tightened lockdown

Israel Police have issued numbers Friday of fines given out in response to violations of Israel’s new nationwide lockdown which aims to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Police say they issued 3,319 fines for different violations. 2,036 were given to recipients leaving their place of residence for reasons that aren’t outlined in the regulations, and travelling more than the allowed one kilometer radius.

1,011 fines were given for failing to wear a mask, 55 were given for violating lockdown restrictions, and 111 were given to businesses for failing to close. 79 were given for being in a public place where activity was forbidden. (Haaretz)

12:15 P.M. Israel to start vaccinating special ed teachers next week

The Health Ministry panel in charge of prioritizing vaccinations has decided that special education staff will start getting vaccinated next week, the ministry said in a statement.

Unlike the general education system, special education classes remain open during Israel's lockdown. (Haaretz)

10:52 A.M. Court cites lockdown in delaying Netanyahu's trial

The Jerusalem District Court announced Friday the next hearing in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, set for Wednesday, has been postponed indefinitely, citing coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

As part of the stricter lockdown measures, which went into effect on Friday and will last for at least 14 days, courts are partially closed, but judges can independently decide whether to hold hearings in cases they view as urgent. (Netael Bandel)

>> Click here to read the full report

10:51 A.M. Iran's Khamenei bans imports of U.S., British vaccines

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday banned the government from importing new coronavirus vaccines from the United States and Britain.

"Imports of U.S. and British vaccines into the country are banned. I have told this to officials and I'm saying it publicly now," Khamenei said in live televised speech.

"If the Americans were able to produce a vaccine, they would not have such a coronavirus fiasco in their own country," he said. (Reuters)

9:55 A.M. Only Palestinians working in essential roles allowed to travel between West Bank and Israel during lockdown

Daily commute to and from the West Bank will only be allowed for Palestinians working in essential industries, the Israeli Defense Ministry unit responsible for the Palestinian Territories announced on Thursday.

Those holding a permit to work in construction or agriculture will be allowed entry only if they remain in Israel at least until the end of the lockdown.

The new rule does not affect Israeli citizens living in the West Bank, who are not under the same movement control regimen.

According to Palestinian Authority coronavirus lockdown regulations, laborers are formally barred from entering Israeli territory. (Yaniv Kubovich)

9:40 A.M. Police clash with worshippers while breaking up synagogue gathering flouting coronavirus rules in West Bank settlement

People gathered at a synagogue in the ultra-Orthodox West Bank settlement of Betar Ilit, in violation of Israel’s lockdown measures, and threw stones at police forces who were called to disperse them, police said. One of them was detained for assaulting police.

This follows three unauthorized gatherings reported by the police on Thursday night. In the central city of Rishon Letzion, cops were called to a party with about 120 people, and handed out fines to 100 of them and to the organizer. Two weddings, one in the city of Taibeh with more than 100 guests and the other at a religious school in Betar Ilit, were also dispersed and organizers were handed fines.

Police also said a confirmed coronavirus carrier was caught violating his mandatory quarantine in the northern city of Haifa, and was summoned for interrogation. (Haaretz)

8:40 Israel confirms almost 9,000 new cases in a day

Israel has confirmed 8,839 new cases on Thursday, according to Health Ministry figures, putting the number of active cases in the country at 65,514.

This represents a 6.2-percent rate of positive tests. Both figures have been higher over the past week, but are exceptionally high compared to data from the past three months.

There are currently 1,481 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, with 873 of them in serious condition and 220 on life support. 3,565 COVID-related deaths have been confirmed so far. (Haaretz)

8:28 A.M. More than 1.7 million Israelis already vaccinated

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said 1.7 million Israelis have received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine so far, nearly 115,000 of whom on Thursday alone.

According to Health Ministry figures, the vast majority of vaccinations – 80 percent this week – are administered by private health maintenance organizations (HMOs), and about 10 percent in average by hospitals. (Ido Efrati)

7:54 A.M. Pfizer study suggests vaccine works against variant

New research suggests that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine can protect against a mutation found in two highly contagious variants of the coronavirus that erupted in Britain and South Africa.

Those variants are causing global concern. They both share a common mutation called N501Y, a slight alteration on one spot of the spike protein that coats the virus. That change is believed to be the reason they can spread so easily.

Most of the vaccines being rolled out around the world train the body to recognize that spike protein and fight it. Pfizer teamed with researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for laboratory tests to see if the mutation affected its vaccine's ability to do so.

They used blood samples from 20 people who received the vaccine, made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, during a large study of the shots. Antibodies from those vaccine recipients successfully fended off the virus in lab dishes, according to the study posted late Thursday on an online site for researchers.

The study is preliminary and has not yet been reviewed by experts, a key step for medical research. (The Associated Press)

>> Click here to read the full report

1:54 A.M. Could Israel have avoided a third lockdown?

Almost a year since the coronavirus hit Israel, the country is in a third outbreak and entering its third tight lockdown. This time, the vaccination campaign at least offers hope for the future. But it’s hard to avoid wondering a third lockdown could have been avoided, and if so, how.

Was there a way to manage the pandemic better, at less cost to our health, economy and social life? Could different decisions have improved Israel’s situation? And to what extent has the public contributed to the problem?

In hindsight, there were many management failures. Yet it’s also impossible to ignore the role of human nature. (Ido Efrati)

>> Click here to read the full report

12 A.M. Israel enters tightened lockdown as cases continue to soar

Israel entered it's third full lockdown on Thursday at midnight, which includes shutting most schools and workplaces. The new regulations will last 14 days. Earlier on Thursday, the head of public health services in the Health Ministry said the number of seriously ill patients is worse than what was projected and that Israel is "facing a catastrophe."

As of midnight, only workplaces considered essential will remain open. Schools will move to online teaching, apart from special education institutions and establishments for at-risk youth.

In the next two weeks, no more than 10 people will be permitted to gather outdoors, and no more than five will be allowed in an indoor gathering. Public transporation occupancy would be reduced to 50 percent. Exercising individually is permitted without any restrictions.

Anyone caught traveling more than a kilometer from home or failing to wear a mask will be fined 500 shekels. Anyone ignoring a police order to disperse a gathering will be fined 1,000 shekels. Anyone caught opening a business in violation of regulations or violating quarantine will be fined 5,000 shekels.

Thousands of police officers will enforce the lockdown, and police will deploy roadblocks along state highways as well as within cities from 7:00 P.M. to 7:00 A.M. for the next 14 days. (Judy Maltz)


9:28 P.M. Netanyahu: Pfizer deal will see all Israelis older than 16 vaccinated by end of March

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would step up its vaccination drive so that all citizens older that 16 would be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March.

According to Netanyahu, another shipment of vaccines manufactured by the U.S. drugmaker Pfizer will arrive in Israel on Sunday, and the order with which the entire population will be vaccinated will be released in the coming days.

"We've managed to bring the vaccines earlier than planned and in bigger numbers," Netanyahu said, adding that "Israel will set an example for the entire world for how to rapidly and efficiently vaccinate an entire country," the prime minister added.

Netanyahu added that as part of its cooperation with Pfizer, Israel would share its vaccination campaign data with Pfizer. (Haaretz)

9:02 P.M. Israel 'facing catastrophe,' senior health official says

The head of public health services in the Health Ministry, Sharon Alroy-Preis, said that the number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients is worse than what was projected and that Israel is "facing a catastrophe."

Speaking before the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Alroy-Preis said that "the pandemic is raging with more than 8,000 new daily cases. Ten days ago, we had 600 patients in critical and serious condition and today we have 300 more. These numbers are expected to double every two weeks." (Jonathan Lis)

9:00 P.M. Health Ministry ends open coronavirus testing program

Coronavirus tests will now be available only to those that have received a referral from an HMO, Israel's Health Ministry announced on Thursday.

This is due to rising infection rates, which have created a backlog in laboratories processing tests, as well as in health maintenance organizations and the emergency medical service Magen David Adom. Tests will be conducted according to an order of priority, with those displaying symptoms going first, along with contact cases and at-risk populations.

A referral, usually delivered by someone's HMO, can be obtained according to the following criteria: displaying at least one symptom (cough, fever, difficulty breathing, sore throat, change in taste or smell, and muscle fatigue); close contact with a verified patient; returning from abroad; hoping to shorten a compulsory isolation period; moving into an area or institution where a majority of the population is considered to be vulnerable.

The Health Ministry said they would continue to carry out testing in assisted living facilities, religious schools, and among groups with low access to medical services and considered to be at risk (for example, because they live in overcrowded conditions). Travellers will also be able to take a test if their destination requires it. (Ido Efrati)

7:44 P.M. Large Pfizer vaccine shipments expected in Israel soon

Israel is preparing to receive large vaccine shipments from the U.S. drugmaker Pfizer.

Israel received its first shipment from Pfizer in December and according to Health Ministry sources, it included 200,000 doses

Although Pfizer's experimental proctol is for two vaccine doses to be given 21 days apart, documents published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in early December indicate that the Pfizer vaccine provides "strong protection" against COVID-19 after the first dose. (Amos Harel)

5 P.M. Netanyahu and Gantz push to vaccinate teaching staff

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein have agreed to ask the coronavirus committee for priority groups to consider including teaching staff under the age of 60 in the category of people eligible for vaccination.

Earlier Thursday, Edelstein asked the committee to prioritize the vaccinations of special education teaching staff.

The Teachers' Union said in response that the work dispute they announced would continue until all teaching staffs are vaccinated. The statement also said that should the state fail to inoculate special education teachers in the coming days, they would strike as of next Tuesday.

The union pushed to use Israel's imminent lockdown in order to finish vaccinating the remaining teachers. When that is done, the statement said, "we'll commend the execution, not the decision." (Ido Efrati)

3:33 P.M. First shipment of Moderna vaccine arrives in Israel

The first shipment of Moderna's coronavirus vaccines arrived in Israel Thursday afternoon. The shipment includes about 100,000 doses.

Israel has secured 6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the U.S. drugmaker, which will suffice to vaccinate three million Israelis, with each person receiving two doses.

The Moderna vaccine uses messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, as does the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, with whom Israel has also reached a deal, securing 2 million doses.

Both Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines tested to be 95 percent efficient, and have similar side effects.

A key advantage of Moderna's vaccine is that it does not need ultra-cold storage like Pfizer's, making it easier to distribute. Moderna expects it to be stable at standard refrigerator temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius (36 to 48°F) for 30 days and it can be stored for up to 6 months at -20 degrees Celsius. (Ido Efrati)

3:42 P.M. Courts to partially close during stricter lockdown

Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut, Justice Minister Benny Gantz and Bar Association Chairman Avi Himi decided that the courts would be partially closed during the stricter lockdown which will go into effect on Thursday at midnight.

However, each judge could decide independently whether to hold hearings in cases they view as urgent.

This means that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's lawyers could request to postpone the hearing in his corruption trial slated for Wednesday.

The panel of judges in Netanyahu's trial will have the final say on whether to postpone his hearing.

In addition, Israel Bar Association's national council is currently convening to decide whether to launch a strike, fearing that keeping the justice system partially open would cause further increase in infection rates. (Netael Bandel)

1:49 P.M. Israel's special education and at-risk youth teachers express concerns over continuing to work amid skyrocketing infection rates

Israel’s Education Ministry says special education services nationwide will continue during the nationwide lockdown five days a week until 2pm instead of 5pm.

The ministry said they decided to shorten they day in an effort to lighten the load for special education teachers during the coronavirus pandemic.

School principals with special education departments told Haaretz that it’s difficult to build a full time special education program under the current circumstances, since several teachers are quarantined, and others have to be at home with their own children given the absence of classes at mainstream schools. Another difficulty is that parents of special needs students will keep sending their kids to school amid a rise in infection rate.

Additionally, teachers of at-risk youth will also continue teaching without having received a vaccine against COVID-19, raising concern among staff. “Special needs teachers and teachers of at-risk youth worked through the past few lockdowns. Yet we are experiencing the highest infection rate yet, especially affecting the towns that send their children to our schools,” said Ahli Buki, the principal of the Branco Weiss special education school in the Golan Heights.

The Teacher’s Union said that the government did not listen to their requests to prioritize vaccinating special needs teachers. (Shira Kadari Ovadia)

1:46 P.M. Police's traffic division releases information on road blocks day before bolstered nationwide lockdown begins

Israel Police’s traffic division will erect 25 road blocks across Israel, and will deploy thousands of officers nationwide to enforce Israel’s newest lockdown, which goes into effect at midnight on Friday morning.

“As Israel continues to struggle to control the spread of cornonavirus, Israel Police will bolster their activies, enforcement and investigation across Israel, and will enforce regulations in order to uphold public health,” the traffic division said.

“Starting on Friday at midnight, police will enforce 25 check points nationwide at major intersections, creating a network of inter and intra-city roadblocks, as part of the nationwide goal of enforcing the latest lockdown. In addition to the roadblocks, thousands of police will carry out patrols across the country, to identify citizens that aren’t abiding by the regulations.”

Israel Police is also urging the public to abide by the rules for the sake of upholding public health. (Josh Breiner)

1:15 P.M. Kanievsky agrees to close schools for several days amid spike in cases

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community, instructed religious elementary schools to close for several days in the face of rising rates of coronavirus infections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Thursday with Kanievsky's grandson, who relayed the message that Talmud Torah schools would be closed, and directors of the institutions had received instructions to do so.

The rabbi's grandson did not mention if yeshivas, for older ultra-Orthodox students, would also close. Religious schools have previously refused to close in the face of coronavirus restrictions.

Despite the instructions from the Lituanian Rabbi Sect, in the more extreme communities in Mea She'arim are continuing businesses as usual. Haaretz has learned that an Israeli Police officer in charge of Mea She'arim area spoke to several Hassidic figures in the neighborhood and updated them about the lockdown starting at midnight. The response he received was unanimous: everything will continue as normal. (Aaron Rabinovich)

1:10 P.M. Some 65 percent of Israelis over 60 vaccinated

Some 65 percent of Israelis over the age of 60 have already received the coronavirus vaccine, statistics from the Health Ministry indicate. (Ido Efrati)

12:54 P.M. Soldiers allowed to visit relatives with COVID-19

The Israeli army is allowing soldiers to go on leave even when family members are confirmed as having COVID-19, and in cases in which family members are isolating because of the disease. At the end of their leave, the soldiers return to their units.

The military has seen a significant rise in COVID-19 cases among soldiers as well as those requiring medical isolation because they have been exposed to people with confirmed cases of COVID-19. To date, 1,004 soldiers have been confirmed as having COVID-19. Another 10,450 are in mandated isolation.

In spite of the rise in infection, the army allows soldiers to go on leave in their homes, even when relatives have become ill with COVID-19 or are in isolation.

Soldiers have told Haaretz that in many cases their commanders do not inquire before they go on leave whether they have famliy at home who are ill or in quarantine. In addition, other soldiers said they were forced to take public transportation home in situations where they should have been self-isolating. For example, recently drafted soldiers who are in basic training at the Havat Hashomer military base in the north say they were required this week to return to their homes on public transportation, even though they were required to remain in medical quarantine because a number of soldiers in their unit had tested positive for the coronavirus. The soldiers who went on leave say they were not required to be tested for the virus. (Yaniv Kubovich)


11:46 P.M. Cabinet approves full lockdown starting Friday

The cabinet voted to approve tighter lockdown measures, including shutting most schools and workplaces. The new regulations will go into effect at midnight between Thursday and Friday and last 14 days.

All schools will move to online teaching, apart from special education institutions and establishment for at-risk youth. Only workplaces considered essential will remain open.

On traveling 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 a special committee would be able to grant approvals to fly in specific cases.

All incoming travelers will be put in a state-run quarantine facility, and would be let out only after having tested negative for the coronavirus. (Judy Maltz)

>> Click here to read the full report

7:33 P.M. Netanyahu says first delivery of Moderna vaccines set to arrive in Israel on Thursday

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the first shipment of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine is expected to land in Israel on Thursday, days after the U.S. drugmaker said that Israel's Health Ministry had authorized it.

Netanyahu did not specify how many doses of the vaccines are expected to arrive, but Moderna said in a statement earlier this week that Israel "has secured 6 million doses."

"We will be giving these vaccines to people who can't make it to the vaccination centers due to quarantine, or who have to stay at home for whatever reason," Netanyahu said.

Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which must be stored at the ultra-cold temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius, Moderna's can be stored at minus 20 degrees Celsius, about the temperature of a normal freezer. (Judy Maltz)

6:31 P.M. Vaccine could be less effective against South African virus strain, top public health official says

Public health chief, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, said the results of a preliminary study suggest exisiting vaccines may be less effective against the coroanvirus strain discovered in South Africa, stressing the importance of isolation procedures.

"We know there have been cases of contagion in Israel. Thirty people have contracted the English variant, of whom six came from England," Alroy Preis said, "around them, there are around 200 verified contact cases."

"The South African variant is more troublesome because it can cause serious illness among young people," she added. "The effect of the vaccine is not yet clear and there is worrying preliminary research and suspicion that the vaccine is less effective." (Jonathan Lis)

4:20 P.M. Two seriously ill patients denied access to artificial lung machines due to staff shortages

For the first time since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, doctors in Israel were forced to turn away two patients in need of ECMO machines.

ECMO machines allow the heart and lungs of patients to rest by pumping the blood out and oxygenating it outside the body.

The patients, who are 65 and 66-year-old and live in the north of Israel, are currently on respirators but have not been given access to the more sophisticated ECMO devices due to a shortage of personnel.

“If there is an emergency case of a 30-year-old guy who collapses in intensive care, we would put him on the machine and round up staff,” said Dr. Yigal Kassif, a senior heart surgeon at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer hospital, “but in general, the situation is such that there is no current capability to operate additional ECMO beds."

Kassif said the current wave of the coronavirus has been the most challenging when it comes to demand for ECMO. There are currently 27 patients on the machines in Israel, about 20 of whom are COVID-19 patients. (Ido Efrati)

>> Click here to read the full report

3:44 P.M. Major hospital makes vaccination a prerequisite to come to work
The direction of Hadassah Hospital near Jerusalem has announced that more than a thousand employees that have yet to be vaccinated will be asked to stay home, in light of rising infection rates.

They will have to take the days off as part of their annual holiday allowance. (Ido Efrati)

12:36 P.M. Knesset panel approves exemptions ahead of stricter lockdown

The Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved several exemptions on Wednesday to the rule forbidding Israelis from exceeding a distance of one kilometer from their homes. People will be allowed to receive complementary medical treatment, attend a religious ceremony, and attend state-subsidized activities for senior citizens that were approved to assist their wellbeing during the pandemic. Orthodox Christians will also be permitted to travel for Christmas, which is celebrated on January 7 in the Orthodox Church. (Jonathan Lis)

10:25 A.M. Health Ministry director general: Benchmarks for ending strict lockdown haven’t yet been set

Israeli authorities have not set criteria in advance for when the country will end the stricter lockdown that it is scheduled to enter at the end of the day Thursday, Health Ministry director general Chezy Levy said Wednesday. The decision, he said, will come during the lockdown.

Speaking on Kan Reshet Bet public radio, Levy said the number of new daily cases, which have been running at over 8,000 in the country, would have to drop below 1,000 to end the lockdown, which is due to last at least two weeks. “We are still not vaccinating in numbers that would give us herd immunity,” he added. As of Tuesday, nearly 1.5 million Israelis had received their first of two shots of the vaccine. A total of 115,000 people were vaccinated on Tuesday.

Levy expressed concern over the prospect that ultra-Orthodox schools would continue operating in violation of lockdown directives after Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, one of the community’s leading rabbis, ordered non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox Talmud Torah schools to remain open. “The ultra-Orthodox school system needs to look precisely like the regular school system,” Levy said. The lockdown directives limit schools to distance learning other than in special education programs and programs for youth at risk. (Haaretz)

>> Click here to read the full report

9:00 A.M. Ultra-Orthodox leader instructs religious elementary schools in Jerusalem to remain open during lockdown

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, leader of the "Lithuanian" non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox community, instructed religious elementary schools in Jerusalem to remain open during the nationwide lockdown that will go into effect on Friday, reversing course after agreeing to close the ultra-Orthodox education system in Jerusalem under conditions proposed by Mayor Moshe Leon. Leon suggested having ultra-Orthodox schools move to remote learning for no more than two weeks and vaccinating all teaching staff, with schools remaining closed only as long as there is a nationwide lockdown that equally applies to all segments of the population. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

7:39 A.M. Nearly 1.5 million Israelis receive vaccine

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said that nearly 1.5 million Israelis have been vaccinated against COVID-19, with some 115,000 receiving the vaccine on Tuesday.

Edelstein called on the public to "follow the guidelines" ahead of the tightening of the lockdown which is set to begin on Thursday at midnight. (Haaretz)


9:20 P.M. Israeli cabinet approves strict lockdown, to go into effect on Friday

The cabinet voted to approve tighter lockdown measures, including shutting most schools and workplaces. 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.

All schools will move to online teaching, apart from special education institutions and establishment for at-risk youth. Only workplaces considered essential will remain open.

On traveling 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 a special committee would be able to grant approvals to fly in specific cases.

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

All ministers voted for the tighter measures, apart from Interior Minister Arye Dery and Religous Services Minister Yaakov Avitan, both from ultra-Orthodox party Shas, who refrained 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. (Judy Maltz)

>> Click here to read the full report

6:30 P.M. Health minister tells cabinet protests are a ‘risk’, but refrains from limiting them

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein described protests as an “epidemiological risk” during a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, 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.”

As Israel prepares for a more severe lockdown, Education Minister Yoav Gallant assented to the new measures, and hoped for a “short and tight” lockdown. He added that the education system is going into the lockdown “together with everybody else,” amid widespread resistance to measures focusing on schools. (Judy Maltz)

3:18 P.M. Netanyahu and Gantz strike deal to enact full lockdown

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have reached an agreement to enact a full nationwide COVID-19 lockdown beginning Sunday. According to the agreement, the entire education system, save for special education programs, will close.

The cabinet is now meeting to discuss whether to approve the measure. It has yet to be decided whether the new regulations will last 10 days or two weeks.

On Tuesday afternoon, Gantz announced that he will not agree to harm the right to protest or to restrict the courts during the tightened lockdown. (Judy Maltz)

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