Israel sets off on dash to beat pandemic by end of March

A third lockdown starts in Israel on Sunday, Dec. 27, combined with a high-speed vaccination program that aims to subjugate the pandemic by two dates – the March 23 general election and the Passover festival four days later. On the first, PM Binyamin Netanyahu hopes his Likud party will reap its reward from a grateful voter; on the second, the traditional large family Passover Seder (dinner) will hopefully replace the wretched isolation of last year.

On Saturday, meanwhile, the surging, mutating coronavirus struck 2,680 new Israeli cases; 4pc proved positive in 63,000 tests. The number of seriously ill shot up by 91 in a week to 584, with 133 on ventilators, and the number of deaths rose by 112 in the same week to a total of 3,210. More than 200 coronavirus victims were identified in each of 36 localities.
However, Israelis also formed long lines at the hurriedly set up vaccination stations. In the first week of the program, 280,00 received the first of their two shots.

On Saturday, Netanyahu set some ambitious goals: 150,000 inoculations a day within a week, and more than two million by the end of January. Within a month, he said, 2.25 million will have received their second dose. The entire high-risk population will then be covered as well as all the medical teams and people over 60 who make up 95pc of mortalities. After another 30 days, the prime minister predicted, “we can get out of the coronavirus, open the economy and do things that no other country can do.”

The prime minister said he had consulted with the pharmaceutical firms supplying the vaccine and asked them to step up deliveries to meet the accelerate rate of inoculations. They answered in the affirmative.

From 5 p.m. on Sunday, as the third lockdown swings into effect, all trade outlets shut down, including one-on-one facilities such as hairdressers, excepting supermarkets, pharmacies and restaurant home deliveries – no more takeaway. No entertainment or group sports, only individual activities like jogging; the public transport service will be reduced by 50 percent. Movement outside the home is reduced to a radius of 1,000 meters, except for workers employed at approved facilities, and visits to other homes are barred. Preschools, 1-4 grades and 11-12 grades to attend class up until 1 p.m. and special programs to carry on as usual. Teachers are to receive vaccinations as a priority.

The “green islands” program for hotels in the popular resort areas of Eilat and the Dead Sea is suspended. All incoming passengers aretaken from Ben Gurion airport to government quarantine hotels.

The coronavirus director Prof. Nahman Ash, who also spoke on Saturday, warned that two weeks would not suffice for the national lockdown to take effect and another two weeks are likely to be needed before the level of infection drops to the targets of less than 1,000 new cases per day and an R factor of less than one.

But Ash also predicted that the third closure would be the last before the pandemic is brought under control. The impact of the vaccinations will kick on after the lockdown ends, he said.

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