The Cabinet extended a national lockdown late Sunday night as coronavirus variants offset its vaccination drive and officials predicted a delay in a turnaround from the health and economic crisis. The lockdown will remain in place until Friday at 7 a.m.
The measure was approved after a heated debate. The Cabinet is slated to meet again on Wednesday to decide whether to extend the restrictions even longer.
At the start of the meeting, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu urged ministers not to politicize extending the lockdown.
“We must extend the lockdown by a week and not politicize it. Human lives are at stake. Gatherings in every sector must be prevented,” Netanyahu said.
He later wrote, “To be clear: A gathering is a gathering is a gathering. It doesn’t matter if it’s chareidim, secular, or Arabs. Unfortunately, there are gatherings on all sides, in all these public groups. We need to stop this immediately and stop politicizing it.”
The government also extended the ban imposed on all non-essential flights into and out of Israel, in accordance with the existing regulations.
The ministers approved forming an exceptions committee to review applications for arrival in Israel for humanitarian and special reasons, during the period in which restrictions on entry into Israel exist. The committee will be headed by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and include officials from the Interior, Foreign, Health, Transportation, Diaspora and Immigration Ministries.
Those who return to Israel from all countries will be obligated to quarantine in hotels provided by the state. Fines for violating lockdown directives were increased to up to NIS 10,000, doubled from NIS 5,000.
Netanyahu has promoted a speedy vaccination drive, and so far some 24% of Israel’s nine million citizens have been vaccinated.
The vaccination campaign and the lockdown were billed as dual pathways to a possible reopening of the economy in February, but a projected mid-January turnaround in curbing the pandemic did not transpire.
Serious cases have surged among Israelis who have not yet been vaccinated. Officials blame this on communicable foreign virus strains and on lockdown scofflaws.