The Israeli government has made good on days of warnings that a third lockdown was coming, with a statement issued on Wednesday night that it will commence next Sunday at 5 p.m. The government approved the move in an effort to bring down the number of daily infections to below 1,000 and the reproduction rate to below 1. According to the framework approved by the government, the lockdown is set to last two weeks but will be extended by another two weeks if morbidity dates do not improve.
As part of the lockdown, Israelis will need to remain within 1,000 meters (0.6 mile) of their places of residence and will be banned from entering other people’s homes. Gatherings will be limited to up to 20 people outside, and 10 people inside.
Commerce will be shut down outside of deliveries, and public transportation will run at 50% capacity. Businesses that do not accept customers will be able to work at 50% capacity.
The education system will remain partially open, with some exceptions. Although the Health Ministry has warned that even a partial opening of the education system or commerce will render the restrictions ineffective, the government decided to leave preschools, grades 1-4, and 11-12 – who will need to take their high-school matriculation exams this year – open. The school day will last from 8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Parents will be allowed to drop their children off from 7:00 a.m. and pick them up at 2:00 p.m. As in the previous lockdown, special education institutions will continue to operate as normal.
Individual sports such as running will be allowed without any restrictions on movement, and parents who share joint custody of a child will be able to drop their children off with the other parent.
According to Health Ministry data, 27% of Israel’s infections are in the Arab sector, 18% are in the chareidi sector, and 53% are in the general population. There are 53 “red” cities according to the government’s “traffic light” system for determining public health restrictions for local authorities based on the number of new coronavirus cases and the percentage of positive test results. There are 89 “orange” cities and 135 “yellow” cities.
According to the Health Ministry’s forecast, the number of daily infections could jump to over 6,000, and in three weeks, 9,000.
To date, 1,360 Israelis have been hospitalized in serious condition in December, as compared to the 2,495 who were in serious condition in October, and 929 in November. The Health Ministry has warned that the increased stress on the health-care system comes at the same time that the vaccination campaign requires an increase in manpower.
At the outset of the government meeting, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, “The question is, if there are so many vaccines, why do need to take these steps? It’s difficult. We understand the restrictions are difficult for Israel’s citizens. The answer is because the speed here is critical. The disease doubles itself every few days and the rate of vaccination, no matter how fast, will not double itself. It cannot catch up to the crazy speed of the disease’s outbreak. If we don’t stop it now, we will see an even greater increase in morbidity.”
Meanwhile, Coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash said on Thursday that the two-week lockdown will not suffice in bringing national morbidity down.
“It was decided that after two weeks we will hold a general assessment and see if we need to keep extending [the lockdown]. This will definitely need to happen,” he told Yediot Acharonot.
“I do not think we will be able to slow the national situation in two weeks and we will not be able to identify a clear drop in morbidity,” he added.
The decision must still be approved by the cabinet in a meeting set to take place before Friday evening.
According to Health Ministry data, Israel confirmed 3,805 new cases of the virus on Wednesday out of the 91,174 tests that were performed, for an infection rate of 4.3%. There are 497 patients in serious condition, 117 of whom are on ventilators. Israel currently has 29,997 active cases, three times as many it did two weeks ago. So far, 3,150 people have died.