Israel on Tuesday voted to extend the full nationwide lockdown until the end of January in an effort to bring down the worrying surge in coronavirus cases and expand the vaccination campaign.
Israel's cabinet convened earlier to discuss an extension to its current strict lockdown, which is set to expire on Thursday, as the country for the first time saw 10,000 coronavirus infections in one day.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the cabinet meeting proposed to extend the lockdown until Sunday, January 31, with most ministers supporting the proposal. Netanyahu said the extension of the lockdown will aid the expansion of the vaccination campaign.
"We need to make an effort to boost vaccination drive, and for that to happen we need to extend the lockdown. We need to buy time, while there is a lockdown, it is possible to vaccinate millions. We need to go wherever there is a lag in vaccinations 'with a hammer' - the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities - until all of us are vaccinated."
Ministers also approved the measure that would see anyone boarding a flight to Israel be forced to present a negative coronavirus test, done no more than 72 hours prior to departure.
Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis said he did not support the extension of the lockdown in "green" cities and abstained from the vote.
During the meeting, both Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benjamin Gantz demanded from the Health Ministry that Israelis as young as 16 be vaccinated as soon as possible. Netanyahu added that lockdown is the perfect time to expand the national inoculation campaign.
Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Hezi Levy said that officials will on Thursday discuss vaccinating high school students against COVID-19 so that their matriculation exams could go ahead as planned.
Later a joint statement by Prime Minister's Office and the Health Ministry confirmed the cabinet decision.
"The cabinet has decided to extend the general closure in accordance with the existing detailed regulations for an additional 10 days until Sunday, 31.1.21 at midnight," it wrote.
AFP contributed to this report