Israel extends lockdown by 4 days amid 'worst infection wave'

Cabinet meeting drags for hours with Netanyahu and Gantz at odds over the lockdown extension; cabinet unanimously approves continued closure of Ben Gurion Airport for another week; 'We mustn't fall in love with lockdown as a solution,' Gantz says

Itamar Eichner|Updated:
Israel's cabinet on Sunday evening voted to extend the nationwide lockdown by another four days amid what the health experts call is the "worst infection wave" since the start of the outbreak in the country.
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  • The meeting was delayed several times over a row on a bill, increasing fines for violators of health restrictions, which was eventually passed in the Knesset earlier in the day.
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    בנימין נתניהו ובני גנץ
    בנימין נתניהו ובני גנץ
    Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu
    (Photo: Israel Police, Sharon Tzur )
    The lockdown was set to expire on Monday midnight but will now be extended until Friday 7am. The government will reconvene on Wednesday to vote on another extension three-day extension.
    The Health Ministry demanded for the lockdown to be extended until Sunday, February 7 but due to disagreements between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, which stalled the cabinet meeting for five hours, the parties had to find a compromise.
    One issue the parties did agree on is the extension to the shuttering of the Ben Gurion Airport, which will remain closed for another seven days.
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    נמל התעופה בן גוריון נתב"ג שומם אחרי סגירתו מחשש ל מוטציה מוטציות קורונה
    נמל התעופה בן גוריון נתב"ג שומם אחרי סגירתו מחשש ל מוטציה מוטציות קורונה
    Ben Gurion Airport
    (Photo: AP)
    Netanyahu at the start of the meeting said Israel is "in a race against death" and extending the lockdown to allow more people to get vaccinated is vital.
    "The world is under an intense attack by British and South African mutations," he said. "Health systems in many countries are on the verge of collapse and in Israel it has been stretched to its maximum ... We can vaccinate the public thanks to the millions of vaccines we brought to Israel, within a week we will inoculate a million more," he added.
    "We are in a very tight race to vaccinate as many Israeli citizens as possible before the the spread of the mutations."
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    אכיפת המשטרה את הסגר השלישי במחסום במחלף קוממיות
    אכיפת המשטרה את הסגר השלישי במחסום במחלף קוממיות
    Police enforce lockdown near Ashdod
    (Photo: Israel Police )
    Netanyahu also criticized those who participated in a mass funeral in Jerusalem, with up to 10,000 ultra-Orthodox attending the procession for a prominent rabbi in violation of health orders. "We shouldn't make this political. A gathering is a gathering, it does not matter if they are ultra-Orthodox, secular or Arab. It should be prevented across all sectors."
    Defense Minister Benny Gantz for his part demanded for the lockdown to be either completely lifted or eased immediately, citing its apparent ineffectiveness.
    "On my way to Tel Aviv, I drove through the streets of Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan and the reality is that everything is open. Israel is not New Zealand," he said. "There is a decrease in infections, especially among the older population. We need to reinforce the vaccination teams to reach everyone."
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    הפגנת העצמאיים בחולון נגד הסגר והמשבר הכלכלי בעקבות הקורונה
    הפגנת העצמאיים בחולון נגד הסגר והמשבר הכלכלי בעקבות הקורונה
    Freelance workers protest lockdown in Holon
    (Photo: Yariv Katz )
    He said the damage from the prolonged lockdown, both mental and economic, is immense.
    "This disease also has side effects due to lockdowns: depression, loss of education and livelihood, heart disease and obesity. We mustn't fall in love with lockdown as a solution. This is especially true now when there are the vaccines. When you add to this the economic and social aspect, you end up with a very heavy toll."
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    מחלקת קורונה בית חולים שיבא תל השומר
    מחלקת קורונה בית חולים שיבא תל השומר
    Coronavirus ward at Sheba Medical Center
    (Photo: AFP)
    Head of Public Health in the Health Ministry Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis said during the meeting the lockdown must be extended because Israel is in the midst of "the worst infection wave" since the start of the pandemic.
    She said 25 people under the age of 40 are currently connected to ECMO machines and another 17 people below the age of 40 are on ventilators. According to Alroy-Preis, the education system alone constitutes about 40% of the infection in the country.
    First published: 20:08, 01.31.21
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