After days of declaring that the lockdown would not end as scheduled on Monday, it came as little surprise when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced late Sunday night a vote to extend the COVID-19 lockdown, this time until Friday morning.
During hours of deliberations in a cabinet meeting that ended just before midnight on Sunday, ministers decided the extended lockdown would include a continued closure of Ben-Gurion International Airport until midnight on Feb. 7. The closure on all commercial flights has separated families and kept citizens from returning to Israel and new immigrants from making aliyah.
The cabinet decided to establish a special committee, headed by Minister Yuval Steinitz and composed of representatives from several other ministries, which will review the cases of Israelis stranded abroad due to the airport closure. If approved, returnees will be required to enter quarantine in state-run quarantine facilities.
This is the third nationwide lockdown since the pandemic's onset in March. The tourism and other cultural sectors have been closed for nearly a year while other businesses such as restaurants and gyms have not returned to life since the second lockdown began on Sept. 18.
The cabinet will meet again on Wednesday to review updated figures from the Ministry of Health and decide on the possibility of extending the lockdown again. The Health Ministry has insisted that the current lockdown has failed to achieve the desired effects of lowering infection rates as previous lockdowns did.
The metrics of COVID-19’s severity in Israel, including positive test results, hospitalizations and the death rate from the disease have remained stubbornly high, with 30% of the total number of deaths from the disease having been recorded in January alone.
Officials are hoping that Israel’s high rate of vaccination, with over 131,000 Israelis receiving a dose of the Pfizer vaccine just on Sunday, will kick in and turn the tide of rising infections. As of Monday, the Health Ministry was reporting that nearly a third of all Israelis have received at least the first dose of the vaccine while nearly a quarter have been fully immunized.
Most Israelis, who have been abiding by the lockdown, were outraged when videos emerged of two funerals of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbis attended by tens of thousands of their followers with few of them wearing masks or observing social distance guidelines. Anger was directed at the lack of government response and police enforcement, which has been widely condemned.
Meanwhile the government will consider this week what grades can reopen next week, if any, as part of the lockdown's end. The Israeli Pediatric Society, in a report applauded by many parents' groups, recommended that at least the early grades of school be opened on Sunday.
“The closure of educational institutions causes severe damage to the normal development of children,” the society said in a statement, citing an increase in reports of mental stress, anxiety and other physical and emotional health issues that children are facing amid the lockdown.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.