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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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."
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