Bennett Says Israel Can Defeat COVID Surge Without New Restrictions

Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov
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Travelers in Ben-Gurion Airport, on Sunday.
Travelers in Ben-Gurion Airport, on Sunday.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday that Israel can defeat the resurgent coronavirus without reimposing restrictions, but citizens must get inoculated in time before the country’s doses expire.

Speaking during a visit to a vaccination center in Holon, the prime minister again called on the public – and particularly teenagers – to get vaccinated. “Many people have come to get inoculated in recent days, but it’s not enough,” he said. “We need to reach 30,000 a day in order to do the job. That’s ambitious, but it’s doable.”

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Bennett said that “The State of Israel is in a race against time – we have enough vaccines for everyone, but they are due to expire at the end of July. So, we have 10 days to provide the first vaccine.” He stressed that everyone needs to receive two doses for it to be fully effective, especially against the delta variant, which is believed to be 1.5 times more contagious than other COVID strains.

On Monday, the number of daily vaccinations also hit a new peak since April: over 14,000 people received their first dose, and more than 3,400 received their second. Last week, amid the new outbreak that centered on schools, the Israeli government recommended vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds. After the announcement, health maintenance organizations reported a spike in new vaccine appointments for that age group.

Bennett said that Israel has no problems with its vaccine supply. “There are vaccines for the entire country, but they have an expiry date. Just like milk has a sell-by date, so do vaccines. And just like how you need to drink the milk before the expiry, you need to be vaccinated before the expiry date.”

Israel currently has about 1.2 million Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccines, which are due to expire on July 30. The country is calling on people to be inoculated with their first dose by July 9, so that they will have enough time to receive their second one 21 days later. Any vaccine doses that are not used, whether in Israel or in a vaccine agreement with the Palestinians or another country, will be destroyed after the expiry date. Israel also has a supply of a few hundred Moderna vaccines, but they have not yet been recommended for children by Israel’s Health Ministry.

“There is a widely held misconception,” Bennett said, “that young people don’t need to be vaccinated. It’s not true. Young people need to be inoculated because the new strain does harm to unvaccinated children, which was not the case to such an extent with earlier strains,” Bennett said.

On Monday, 283 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed in Israel – the highest number since April, Health Ministry data shows. Even so, just 0.4 percent of tests came back positive – down from 0.6 percent last week – and testing has also reached the highest rate since April, with over 58,000 tests conducted. There are currently 1,537 active cases, the Health Ministry reported, but just 21 patients are in serious condition.

As of Tuesday morning, four towns – Binyamina, Kfar Sava, Kochav Yair and Tsofim – have been designated “red,” or have a relatively high incidence of COVID infection, according to Israel’s so-called traffic light program. Modi’in and Hertzliya have been designated orange, and Ramle, Pardes Hannah, Ashdot Ya’akov and Aviel are yellow. Tel Aviv, which had been designated yellow in past days, has returned to being green, marking a reduction in infections.

On Sunday, the coronavirus cabinet met for the first time since the Bennett-Lapid government was sworn in amid the rising COVID cases. The ministers decided that, at this stage, there is no need to impose new restrictions. “Our goal at this stage is to provide maximum defense for the citizens of Israel against the spread of the delta strain, together with minimal disruption of everyday life,” Bennett said at the meeting.

A boy receives a coronavirus vaccine in Modi'in, last week.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The cabinet decided to act on recommendations for stepping up quarantine enforcement for returning travelers, launching a campaign encouraging vaccination for teens and a program for full genetic COVID sequencing of anyone entering Israel. The education and health ministries and the National Security Council were ordered to develop a plan for the upcoming school year that addresses various scenarios for the spread of COVID.

Earlier that day, the cabinet approved new guidelines, which criminalizes travel to countries barred for entry due to their high COVID infection rate. Violating the rule will be punishably by a 5,000 shekel ($1,500) fine. Ministers also approved a plan requiring Israeli travelers over age 16 coming through Ben-Gurion International Airport to fill out a declaration before flying stating that they are not traveling to a banned destination.

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