Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday evening that Israel will begin gradually lifting lockdown restrictions next week while urging citizens to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the more infectious British variant of the disease spreads nationwide.
"We are in the midst of a race between the vaccination campaign and the [COVID-19] variant," Netanyahu told a press conference. "The vaccination campaign is our key to exiting the pandemic. The variant has stricken the entire world… and us too. Only a few days ago, it accounted for 70% of all samples taken, and today, it accounts for some 80%. The spread is massive."
The premier also said that 97% of the country's COVID-19 victims and 93% of serious cases were among those aged 50 and over.
"If we take control of the disease in these age groups, and manage to vaccinate all over 50s, we will be on the path to victory over coronavirus, leaving any surprises like new variants. That is why I am setting a national goal to vaccinate 90% of those aged 50 and over. It will allow us to gradually open the economy and save lives."
Netanyahu also criticized coalition partners Blue & White as the government is set to convene on Wednesday to discuss lifting travel restrictions, which expire on Friday, until Sunday.
"Each day counts. The meaning of three more days of lockdown is another 200,000 people vaccinated," Netanyahu said. "We won't stall the opening. We will open gradually as early as next week, but carefully."
"They have to know the data. It's a matter of life and death, not populism.
I call on everyone to rise above any other considerations. We can win big because we have millions of vaccines, a vaccine for every citizen, a public system to transport them and high turnover."
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein took the stage after Netanyahu and said that the Health Ministry is considering lowering the vaccination age cap, which currently stands at 35, as vaccination turnout plateaued in recent days, leaving vaccination centers empty.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry reported Tuesday morning that 34.35% of the country's population have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 19.8% have been given the second booster shot. Since the start of the vaccination campaign, Israel has administered over 5 million COVID-19 shots.
In the general sector, 82% of those aged 60 and over have been vaccinated against the disease so far, while just 66% of the same age group were inoculated among the ultra-Orthodox sector.