The Cabinet is to convene on Wednesday afternoon to decide on an exit strategy from the lockdown with kindergartens set to re-open on Sunday.
The Health Ministry on Wednesday reported that 7,919 new coronavirus cases were confirmed during the previous day, indicating a 9.3% positivity rate after 85,000 tests conducted.
There are currently 1,074 people in serious condition being treated in hospitals with 292 of them on ventilators.
After 31 people succumbed to the virus on Tuesday, the death toll since the start of the pandemic stands at 4,888.
The high contagion rate comes despite the strict lockdown in effect since Jan. 8 and despite the vaccination drive that has resulted thus far in nearly two million Israelis having already received the two doses of the coronavirus vaccine and over three million receiving one dose.
The decision to begin exiting the lockdown on Friday at 7 a.m. came during a Sunday Cabinet meeting, at the insistence of Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and is in opposition to the Health Ministry’s position that insisted it should remain in place until at least next Sunday.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Israel will begin gradually lifting lockdown restrictions next week while urging citizens to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the more infectious British variant of the disease spreads nationwide.
“We are in the midst of a race between the vaccination campaign and the [new coronavirus] variant,” Netanyahu said at a press conference. “The vaccination campaign is our key to exiting the pandemic. The variant has stricken the entire world… and us too. Only a few days ago it accounted for 70% of all samples taken, and today it accounts for some 80%. The spread is massive.”
The Prime Minister also said that 97% of the country’s coronavirus victims and 93% of serious cases were among those aged 50 and over.
“If we take control of the disease in these age groups, and manage to vaccinate all the over 50s, we will be on the path to victory over the coronavirus, barring any surprises like new variants. That is why I am setting a national goal to vaccinate 90% of those aged 50 and over. It will allow us to gradually open the economy and save lives.”