Bennett Says Lockdowns Are a ‘Last Resort’ as Serious Cases Hits Highest Since March

(Israel Hayom) -
An elderly Israeli receives his third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit health care maintenance organization, in Yerushalayim. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel on Sunday reported over 500 severe coronavirus cases for the first time since March.

The Health Ministry said 524 patients are now in serious condition, of whom 84 are ventilated.

Over the weekend, 20 coronavirus patients died in Israel, of whom 13 passed away on Friday and seven on Shabbos. The official death toll since the start of the pandemic in Israel now stands at 6,632.

A total of 37,781 Israelis tested positive for coronavirus over the last week, with an average of 5,400 verified cases per day. In the first week of August, 23,490 people were diagnosed, with an average of 3,355 a day, while in the last week of July, 14,742 people tested positive, with an average of about 2,100 a day.

 

As the morbidity keeps rising, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took to social media on Motzoei Shabbos to share his government’s strategy of combating the delta variant of COVID-19.

“Everything in our power is being done to avoid lockdowns, which are destructive to our livelihood, to the economy, and to the education of our children,” he wrote.

“Lockdowns are truly a last resort,” he said, adding “Our goal is simple: to preserve the health of Israelis, and also to preserve the economic future of Israel.”

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked echoed that sentiment on Sunday morning, telling Army Radio, “We can hopefully avoid lockdown, which constitutes a last resort from our standpoint … If we can vaccinate children and teenagers who haven’t receive the first vaccine yet and if individuals in their 50s and 60s get the booster dose.”

She added: “Many of the experts I spoke to support lowering the age threshold for the third vaccine to 40 to reduce infection numbers… hopefully, this decision comes this week.”

Bennett said he was putting his faith in Israel’s record-setting vaccination rollout, which was expanded last week to offer a third jab to Israelis aged 50 and upward.

Since the start of the campaign to vaccinate the elderly, 860,137 Israelis have received their third “booster” dose.

One allergic reaction has been reported following receipt of the third dose, and it is under investigation by the Health Ministry.

At the same time, 5,412,255 Israelis have received their second dose of the vaccine, including 27% of youth ages 12-15 and 68.3% of those ages 16-19.

A number of senior public health officials, headed by the Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Nachman Ash, were calling for the administration of a third vaccination dose to begin for those aged 40 and over soon as this week.

Prof. Ash told Israel Hayom that he was in favor of immediate approval of a third vaccine for those aged 40 and over, adding that “we will monitor the efficacy and safety data in the coming week, and see if such a decision can be made.”

Clalit national health fund chief Prof. Zion Hagai, who is also a supporter of the move.

“Postponing the vaccine for people aged 40 to 50 can cost lives. A vaccine for people aged 40 and over will also increase protection against the Delta variant among the population, and reduce the rate of serious morbidity. There is no other way to reduce morbidity except by vaccination, and there is already information about a large number of people who received a third vaccine without side effects and that it is even less than those who were in the second vaccine,” Hagai said.

Bennett asserted that the three lockdowns over the past year, imposed by previous governments led by former premier Benjamin Netanyahu, cost Israel over NIS 200 billion ($62 billion).

The prime minister said it was the responsibility of citizens to preserve their own lives and the lives of their loved ones by getting vaccinated, wearing masks in closed spaces, and not gathering.

The government, he said, would take seven “important steps” to combat the virus:

Vaccinating anyone who wants to get the jab; increasing the capacity of the hospitals by providing more staff and additional funding to help repair a system that was neglected for many years; protecting the most vulnerable elderly in the country’s nursing homes and geriatric centers; opening a private market for rapid and home testing; increasing enforcement on wearing masks, isolation and adhering to Green Pass regulations; preparing a way to run schools in full alongside the virus; expanding the Green Pass to include kids between the ages of three and twelve, meaning more testing, more virus carries discoveries and less infection.

Bennett said locking down is like asking Israelis to stop driving to avoid road accidents.

“It is possible to bring the number to zero deaths from road accidents by banning driving on Israeli roads,” he wrote. “But we all understand that we must live and allow movement in Israel. The same is true with the Delta virus: routine life is part of life, and we must balance all of our needs responsibly.”

He admitted that people will ask him, “Are you not consciously allowing hundreds of people to die from coronavirus?”

But according to Bennett, closures have a direct cost on human life.

He said the previous three closures had a price tag of NIS 200 billion and therefore if the country continues the policy of closures and “destructive restrictions on the economy, we will simply become economically impoverished.”

The money spent on closures was taken from other important purposes, Bennett stressed.

“How many lives of soldiers will we lose if we cannot afford to equip them with modern anti-aircraft guns because we have spent the money on lockdowns?” Bennett asked. “How many children and adults can we not provide life-saving surgery? … How many classes can we not fund? How many elderly pensions will we not be able to provide?”

Bennett warned of “tough days” ahead, but said, “I am sure that if we act in accordance with the plan, and if the citizens of Israel wear masks, get vaccinated as soon as it is possible for them, and in general – if we act in solidarity and mutual assistance – we will overcome the Delta variant.”

Meanwhile, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla spoke in an interview with the Financial Times about Netanyahu’s involvement in the deal to sell COVID-19 vaccines to Israel.

“The biggest thing that became clear was [Netanyahu] was on top of everything, he knew everything,” Bourla said. “He called me 30 times, asking: ‘What about young people… what are you doing about the South African variant?’ I’m sure he was doing it for his people, but I’m also sure he was thinking: ‘It could help me politically.'”

The Pfizer CEO explained that he decided on signing a deal with Israel first due to the fact that it has a small population with good data collection systems.

Greece was an option, said Bourla, but its electronic medical record-keeping was not up to scratch. He also considered Sweden, but was worried about upsetting other EU countries.

At the same time, 5,412,255 Israelis have received their second dose of the vaccine, including 27% of youth ages 12-15 and 68.3% of those ages 16-19.