Israel will commence a third domestic coronavirus lockdown despite its successful coronavirus vaccination program. The country’s authorities are attributing the lockdown to a faster-spreading strain of the Wuhan coronavirus. First emerging in the United Kingdom in December 2020, Israeli authorities confirmed four cases of the B117 strain days after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reported the more infectious variant.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told ministers in a Jan. 5 cabinet meeting that the country is “in a state of emergency.” Ministers agreed to a two-week lockdown set to commence Jan. 8 during the same meeting. The lockdown mandate orders schools and non-essential businesses to close, and limits residents within a one-kilometer radius from their homes.
According to the lockdown rules, all schools will move to online teaching – with special education centers and institutions for at-risk youth being exempted. Only workplaces considered essential will remain open as per the guidelines.
The Israeli parliament later approved several exemptions to the one-kilometer radius limit for residents. Medical treatments, religious ceremonies and state-subsidized activities for senior citizens “to assist their well-being during the pandemic” were among the exemptions the Knesset approved. It also approved Christmas travel for Orthodox Christians: The Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7.
The country also announced new travel guidelines aimed at curbing the spread of the more infectious B117 Wuhan coronavirus strain. Anyone arriving from another country will be required to immediately get a coronavirus test and undergo a 14-day quarantine. All incoming travelers will be put in a state-run quarantine facility, and will only be allowed to leave if they test negative for the Wuhan coronavirus.
Israeli ministers agreed that outbound travelers who bought an airline ticket before the new measures become effective will be permitted to fly. However, a special committee would be able to grant flight approvals in specific cases.
Israel joins the list of countries with a widespread coronavirus vaccination program
Israel announced the lockdown amid the country’s mass immunization program that rolled out smoothly. This contrasted with similar programs in the U.S. and other countries that had a slow vaccine rollout. A number of epidemiologists have said that Israel’s vaccination campaign has made it a potential model for the rest of the world due to its effectiveness.
The country’s health officials have touted that the number of people vaccinated in the first nine days of the COVID-19 immunization program had exceeded Israel’s total number of COVID cases since the pandemic’s onset in March 2020. (Related: Health Ministry gives Israelis “free movement” waivers to convince them to take rushed coronavirus vaccine.)
Israel had already vaccinated roughly seven percent of its more than 9.2 million population – about 640,000 people – since the last week of December 2020. Up to 90 percent of the “at-risk” population will receive their second coronavirus dose within the next 25 days, according to the Israel Ministry of Health.
The first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine arrived in Israel on Dec. 9, with the country expecting more shipments. It has also procured vaccine doses from drugmakers Moderna and AstraZeneca, but these have not yet been delivered. The country is also working on its own vaccine, but there have been no details on when it will be ready.
During an exclusive CNBC interview, the health ministry’s Associate Director-General Dr. Itamar Grotto said Israel had an early advantage. The official remarked: “We have a national vaccination registry which was established a few years ago. The whole country is on one database.” Originally, the vaccination registry was established to ensure that children completed their necessary shots. (Related: If you refuse coronavirus vaccine plans in Spain, you’ll be targeted and put on a government list.)
An outbreak of wild poliovirus in 2013 prepared Israel for the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic seven years later. It managed to control the poliovirus outbreak through an intense immunization program – leading to the current vaccine registry’s development. The infrastructure allowed Israel to have an edge over other countries fighting the pandemic.
According to Johns Hopkins University data, Israel currently has 463,448 COVID-19 cases with 398,368 recoveries and 3,529 deaths.