One of Israel's leading infectious disease experts warned Tuesday that the country's coronavirus morbidity levels mean it cannot end the current lockdown on Jan. 31 as planned, and that it must be extended by an extra week.
"Both infection and death rates are still high and I am unable to see how we are going to end the lockdown," said Prof. Galia Rahav, head of the Infectious Disease Unit and Laboratories at Sheba Medical Center, Israel's largest hospital.
"I think the lockdown should be extended by an additional week, unless the numbers miraculously change by the weekend," Rahav said.
Asked about the consequences of not prolonging the lockdown, Rahav said the extension crucial to prevent a potential fourth nationwide closure.
"We are making a serious effort with the vaccination campaign and it would be a shame if we lose its effects," she said. "The UK coronavirus variant is rampant and is causing infections to rise."
Rahav also said she believes Israel will soon begin vaccinating children against the coronavirus after receiving the definitive nod from Pfizer, which is currently examining the vaccine's efficacy and effects on that age group.
She expressed her objections to the reopening of schools following reports Monday that Education Minister Yoav Galant told municipal leaders to prepare for a return to classes starting next week.
"With as much as it hurts me to say it, I would keep the lockdown going," she said. "Even though schools are closed, there is still a surge in cases among children and young people."
Rahav also stressed also that while Israel has seen a slight dip in the number of serious coronavirus patients, the country's hospitals are still struggling under the load.
"Something has happened in the past two to three weeks," she said. "Morbidity is far more severe than it was during the first and second waves of infection."
Earlier Tuesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz prevented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from holding a cabinet meeting on extending the coronavirus lockdown until the Knesset enacts a bill to increase fines for violations of pandemic health regulations.
If ministers fail to extend the restrictions, the closure will be lifted next Sunday even though Israel's infection rate is still high, with a positivity rate on Monday of 10%.
Gantz warned Monday that he would block any moves on the pandemic until Netanyahu allowed the bill to pass its final Knesset vote.
The legislation has already passed its first Knesset reading, with "no" votes from Haredi and Arab MKs who represent the sectors with the highest infection rates and poorest record on implementing virus mitigation regulations.
The bill was then sent to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which is headed by MK Yakov Asher of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party. Asher was expected to stall the bill's return to the plenum for a final reading.