JERUSALEM (January 8, 2020)— Just last week, Israel was seen as a model coronavirus country, outstripping the rest of the world in the pace of vaccinating its citizens by a hefty margin.
But the virus had other ideas.
This week, Israel faces a tightened lockdown as infections have spiraled to more than 8,000 new cases a day, officials fear the more transmissible variant of the virus first identified in Britain is spreading rapidly and Israel’s vaccine supplies are running low.
The prospect that Israel would have the virus under control by spring, once promising, now seems uncertain. Health officials say that in the short term, at least, the vaccine campaign cannot compete with the soaring infection rates.
And the Palestinian Authority, which runs its own health care system in the occupied West Bank, has asked Israel for vaccines, prompting a debate over Israel’s responsibility to the Palestinians at a time when Israel’s vaccine supplies are dwindling.
“We are at the height of a global pandemic that is spreading at record speed with the British mutation,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video statement late Tuesday, justifying the government’s decision to impose a full national lockdown that will shutter most schools and all nonessential workplaces for at least two weeks.
“We are in the midst of a global epidemic that is spreading at record speed with the British mutation. She came to Israel and claimed many lives. According to all the experts, we must immediately impose a full closure in order to save lives, as we confirmed in the government and thus approved in the Knesset,” added Netanyahu.
“Every hour we delay, the quicker the virus is spreading, and it will exact a very heavy price,” he added.
At least 30 cases of the variant have been identified in Israel by special sampling, scattered across 14 different towns and cities, but officials and experts said those tests were aimed at identifying the presence of the variant, not quantifying it, and the actual number of cases was likely much higher.
Many scientists believe that the variant is more transmissible, meaning it may spread more easily from one person to another.
Professor Segal said the variant may be a factor in the soaring infection rate in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. In the past four weeks, infections among the ultra-Orthodox have increased sixteen fold.
He estimated that the variant now accounts for about 20 percent of the morbidity in ultra-Orthodox towns and neighborhoods.
There have been constant tensions between the ultra-Orthodox, who make up some 12.5 percent of the population, and mainstream Israelis during the coronavirus crisis, in particular over the insistence of some ultra-Orthodox rabbis on keeping their educational institutions open against the regulations during previous lockdowns and generally flouting the restrictions on large gatherings and social distancing.
Casting another shadow over the tantalizing prospect of an early emergence from the crisis, Israel’s vaccine supplies were running low and officials said that they may have to slow down their widely vaunted vaccination program by mid-January unless they can persuade the drug companies to deliver more vaccines sooner than they had promised.
Source: NYTimes wrote original story.
Photo: Credit…Oded Balilty/Associated Press