A day after Israel exceeded 10,000 new daily coronavirus cases, its highest since the start of the pandemic, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Tuesday that it is a "miracle" the country has only seen a little over 4,000 fatalities from the pathogen.
"The number is astronomical, more deaths than during the Yom Kippur War," Edelstein told Ynet.
"This number could have been much higher, but hospitals have managed to keep it relatively low. However, people within the media, public, political sphere and even some doctors downplayed the true danger of the disease."
On Monday, Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem informed the Health Ministry it would not be able to receive more patients and was asking to divert new cases to hospitals in the center of the country.
Edelstein said that he hopes the government, set to meet later Tuesday, would approve a two-week extension to the lockdown.
The Health Ministry was preparing for opposition from some cabinet ministers who say a 10-day extension to the lockdown is sufficient and that the strict restrictions should be lifted on January 31.
The Likud minister blamed "populist" politicians for torpedoing restriction efforts.
"I have been warning for weeks that we are at the peak of this wave of infections and that we will see tens of thousands of newly infected soon. Unfortunately, I was right," he said.
"When you do not accept the recommendations made by the Health Ministry and try to find a way around them, the result is inevitable. Populism has brought this country to a halt," he said.
Edelstein said that had restrictions been put in place back when new daily infections hovered around 1,500 and that had "precious weeks not gone to waste," the heavy load of patients in the country's hospitals would have been avoided.
"Knesset annulled decisions regarding the education system because everybody loves the children, but now they, the teachers and the parents are suffering," he said.
Regarding the lack of enforcement reported in ultra-Orthodox communities, Edelstein said that there is a lot that could be improved in that sector.
He also said that the current consensus among medical experts in Israel is that the new coronavirus variants do not cause excess fatalities but are far more infectious and cause younger age groups to become ill.
Edelstein promised that soon Israel's coronavirus vaccine campaign will expand to all age groups.
"It is not that far off," he said. "We are examining everything, like for example vaccinating children in grades 11-12 so they can go back to school. Many teachers have turned up to be vaccinated and most of the country's health care workers are already inoculated."
Israel's HMOs announced Tuesday they will expand their coronavirus vaccine campaign to people aged 40 and over.
First published: 11:20 , 01.19.21