Benny Gantz Signing

Israel’s government meets today to consider an extension to its current lockdown in the ongoing battle with the coronavirus pandemic.

Minsters voted to ground all flights at Ben Gurion Airport until Sunday. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced borders, including Jordan and Egypt, would be sealed from today due to the spread of deadly virus.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri confirmed in a statement that border crossings included the Jordan River, Taba and Arava.

The Allenby Bridge crossing with Jordan is open for Judea and Samaria residents.

Health experts backed the extension but latest decisions came amidst arguments over fines for Covid violations in orthodox communities. Disturbing riots by extremists have also taken place across the country including in Bnei Brak, the Mea She’arim neighborhood of Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh and Ashdod.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the Blue & White party would not back restrictions if legislation doubling fines for virus violators was not passed in the Knesset.

Legislation has passed a first Knesset reading but rejected by Chareidi and Arab MKs.

Gantz’s office will meet with health experts to see projected death trends.

Infection rates are being monitored closely. There is a decrease in new infections in cities where vaccinated people are over 60. Public health issues include weight gains, heart issues, depression, suicide and lack of medical care.

The Israeli government approved closure of Ben-Gurion to prevent entry of mutated coronavirus variants into Israel. But Ben Gurion can’t be closed indefinitely so a testing system is required.

Restrictions apply to everyone, even those fully vaccinated or recovered from the virus. A special committee will review humanitarian flights or exceptional circumstances.

Netanyahu said the measure would “hermetically seal” the state.

“Just in this week of closed skies alone, another million Israelis will be vaccinated,” he explained. “Given the increase in variants, which is leading to a record infection rate and possibly more deaths, I said let’s close down. Contrary to public discourse, we closed the skies in the normal format from April to August. Now we are literally closing, with no commercial flights and nothing save for exceptional circumstances.”

Health Ministry officials reported 7,737 new coronavirus cases yesterday. Of 76,708 patients battling the disease, 1,141 are in serious condition, 311 are on ventilators. The death toll is 4,513.

Prof. Nachman Ash has called for a slow reopening of the economy.

“If we reopen the economy too fast, it will lead to another wave of illness and we want to avoid that. The new mutations, especially the spread of the UK mutation, requires us to come out of the lockdown very carefully. We will have to reopen the economy more carefully than we had planned a few weeks ago, and if we succeed, we will avoid another lockdown.”

He added that the Health Ministry would present two versions of an exit strategy. “One outline is tailored to a high infection rate, the second is a broader outline, if the number of patients in the hospitals decreases,” he explained.

Three phases would include a partial reopening of the education system and trade. Timing of each stage would be reviewed.

In the meantime, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said 1.3m Israelis had now received a second dose of the vaccine. Israel has expanded its vaccination drive to 16-18-year-olds.

Some 2.7 million Israelis have received a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine and 1.3 million a booster, 30% and 15% of the population respectively. So far, 63.5% of Israelis aged over 90 have received both doses, 61.9% aged 80-89, 90.9% aged 70-79 and 73.6% aged 60-69.