Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Wednesday evening that another COVID lockdown "would destroy the future of the country," telling a press conference that Israel's strategy in curbing infections remains focused on expanding its vaccination drive.
However, regarding the possibility of imposing a lockdown during the High Holidays, Bennett said that "it depends on the public."
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Bennett said that the cabinet is expected to lower the minimum age for getting a third dose of the COVID vaccine to 40 as early as Thursday.
Bennett said that he expects a further rise in the number of serious coronavirus cases and warned that “the coming days are not going to be easy.”
Asked about the start of the school year, the prime minister said that the cabinet would announce its decision on elementary schools on Sunday, just 10 days before the school year is scheduled to begin on September 1.
Israel began providing booster shots two weeks ago. Over the weekend, it expanded the campaign to the 50-59 age cohort, to employees of geriatric and health care institutions, and to people who suffer from underlying conditions. So far, 1.1 million Israelis have received a third shot.
A Maccabi Healthcare Services study released on Wednesday found that the third shot of the coronavirus vaccine is 86 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 infection among people 60 and older.
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Also Wednesday, Israel's COVID czar Salman Zarka told lawmakers that he supports taking sterner measures to bring the pandemic under control, even as a number of new restrictions came into effect.
“By virtue of my role, I think first and foremost saving lives, and I think more action needs to be taken,” Zarka told a meeting of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. “We are at war – 95 patients in critical condition, 17 patients connected to ventilators – the next two weeks are critical."
The number of serious COVID cases rose to 600 on Wednesday, the Health Ministry reported. Of those, 148 were deemed critical and 103 were on ventilators. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, 6,723 have died.
The rate of positive results on COVID testing is currently 5.6 percent, still lower than the average of 9 percent during the third COVID wave last winter.