image Photos: GPO

New COVID strain as Israel vaccinates

Israel has launched its coronavirus vaccination campaign just as the government considers closure of the Ben Gurion International Airport for two weeks in a new effort to ward off contagion of a new, deadly strain of the disease from abroad.

The Coronavirus Cabinet has already instructed all Israelis returning from the United Kingdom, Denmark and South Africa to be isolated at state-run hotels to stem the infectious mutation effective immediately. The injunction impacted 120 passengers mid-flight to the country aboard two planes that landed in Israel yesterday afternoon.

Israel joins France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium, and Canada to completely sever travel ties with the UK after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Saturday that a highly infectious new strain of the virus was a danger to the country.

With a population of 9 million, Israel has logged a total of 376,857 coronavirus cases and 3,109 deaths. It has imposed two national lockdowns and is mulling new curbs on high-contagion areas.

The Israeli Cabinet will today discuss the re-imposition of quarantine for all citizens returning home from anywhere abroad, as well as a possible third nationwide lockdown amid a surge of patients. The Health Ministry reported this morning that 2,821 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed over the past 24 hours, revealing a 4.1% positivity rate of the 70,000 tests conducted.

Shipments of the Pfizer Inc. / BioNTech vaccines began arriving in Israel last week, and the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines are on order. Israel expects to have enough doses by the year’s end for the 20% of its population most prone to COVID-19 complications.

Israel’s Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) is also in the second phase of human trials for its “BriLife” vaccine.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invoked the Bible and the 1969 lunar landing as he became the first citizen to be inoculated. As he prepared to be injected, Netanyahu cited a passage from the Book of Exodus hailing God’s power as “a strong hand and an outstretched arm.” Following the procedure, he paraphrased astronaut Neil Armstrong’s first words on the moon by saying, “That was a small jab for a man, a huge step for the health of us all. May this be this successful. Go out and get vaccinated!”

Officials say the country has enough vaccines on order by year’s end to protect the most vulnerable 20% of the population. Following

Israel began administering vaccines to medical staff on Sunday. At Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, dozens of doctors and nurses danced as they prepared to receive their injections.

Next in line are elderly Israelis or those in high-risk groups. Israel deems anyone over 60 as eligible to receive the vaccine, whereas a federal advisory panel in the United States recommended yesterday the cut-off be set at 75.

The wider adult population in Israel is slated to get shots in early 2021.

Netanyahu said he was being vaccinated first in order to encourage others. Polls reveal that around two-third of Israelis intend to get vaccinated.

As the government seeks to drum up support for the program, officials are concerned that “fake news” about possibly perilous side-effects of the injections could lower public turnout.

The Israeli Justice Ministry announced that at its request, Facebook removed four groups over the weekend that had disseminated texts, photographs and videos with “deliberately mendacious content designed to mislead about coronavirus vaccines.” A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed that four Hebrew-language groups had been taken down as part of the company’s policy against “spreading misinformation regarding the vaccines.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who was inoculated yesterday, acknowledged that while “the concerns are legitimate,” that “it is important to remember that the vaccines  have gone through meticulous processes, have passed stringent checks and been approved both by the US Food and Drugs Administration and by the Israeli Ministry of Health” – whom he said “are serious bodies for whom the value of human life, trust and accuracy are their guiding lights. We can trust them.”

“When you go and get vaccinated, you are not only taking care of your own health, but of the health of those around you. You will also be helping everyone to return to normal life. You will be helping the economy to restart and to take some of the enormous pressure off our medical teams,” underscored the Israeli leader in a public statement.

In tribute to the tireless battle against the disease on the frontlines, President Rivlin said, “This is another opportunity to salute the medical teams in the hospitals and clinics and to thank you for the hours, the effort, the care. Israeli society owes you a great debt of gratitude.”

“If there is one thing that has become clear above all during the period of this disease, it is that we rely on each other. With this dangerous virus, which passes from person to person, we have to respond together, every part of Israeli society, and be part of the national effort to stop the spread of the disease,” he said, adding that, “The personal sacrifices that each one of us has been called on to make were not only for ourselves, but for the health of those around us, particularly those at risk. For the grandparents, for the pregnant women, and for the neighbor with underlying medical conditions. Israeli society has paid a heavy economic and social price, but we did it because we chose life. We chose mutual responsibility. We chose ‘together.’”

At the conclusion of his remarks, President Rivlin called on the public to “Go and get vaccinated! And, in the meanwhile, continue to follow the hygiene and social distancing instructions. Even if we can see hope on the horizon, corona is still here, and is just as dangerous as ever.”