The Israeli Coronavirus Cabinet of government ministers extended the third national lockdown by an additional 10 days, by unanimous vote.
The decision came as coronavirus infection rates soared to their highest levels since outbreak of the pandemic.
The current lockdown is already in its third week, that saw a previous tightening of restrictions. Instead of ending at midnight tonight (21 January) as initially slated, existing detailed regulations in accordance with the general lockdown will conclude the same time on the 31st of the month.
The Cabinet also enacted two measures aimed at easing some restrictions.
University students without access to remote learning will be able to take exams on campus grounds, provided that their number does not exceed 5%. 11th and 12th grade pupils will be able to take matriculation exams at school facilities, in keeping with rules that have been been set.
A new regulation is set to take effect at 00:00 on Saturday, 23 January. All passengers seeking to board flights to Israel must present documentation of negative PCR coronavirus tests carried out within 72 hours prior to take-off, or Health Ministry confirmation of having completed the two-dose vaccination process. This policy is applicable to anyone who was outside the country for three days or more – with the exception of special, individually granted permits for air crew personnel who will be in Israel for 72 hours or longer.
Upon unveiling the extension, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of his regular Cabinet ministers that the decision may “not be popular and is uncomfortable during an election period but this is what we need to decide on today and I expect everyone to support it.”
“We are in a close race between the vaccines operation and the surging morbidity in the world due to the mutations. Instead of lifting the lockdown as planned, many countries in Europe are now preparing to extend it until March or even April,” he pointed out, insisting, “We must continue to make the right decisions for the citizens of Israel.”
Netanyahu stressed that he would never “ignore the major jump in morbidity and simply open everything but this would cost many lives,” and vowed to continue his efforts to bring additional millions of vaccines to the country to enable emergence from the virus, reopening of the national economy and return to normal life.
The Israeli leader strongly condemned those who flout restrictions, such as those who participated in a “scandalous wedding” in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish city of Bnei Brak on Monday. “This is bloodshed,” said the Premier, adding, “I call on the police to treat all lawbreakers, whoever they are, with an iron fist.”
Meanwhile, Israel continues to be a world leader in vaccinating citizens. The country launched the program on 19 December with inoculating the elderly or high-risk groups with the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine, and later expanded to younger age categories. The national coordinator on the pandemic Nachman Ash announced yesterday that pregnant women will be included among those getting priority access to COVID-19 vaccines, seeing no risk to them or their fetuses.
As of today, 2,365,041 people of the total population of 9 million have received at least one shot, and 694,669 have already received both.