Israel’s Cabinet on Tuesday approved the tightening of the country’s COVID-19 lockdown for 14 days beginning at midnight on Jan. 7, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office. Detailed regulations are to be submitted to the Cabinet by Wednesday.

Israel entered its third national lockdown on Dec. 27 due to rising morbidity figures, but did not fully close the education system or economy.

“We need to impose a full lockdown immediately,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the Cabinet meeting. “We are in the midst of a global pandemic that is spreading at top speed with the British [COVID-19] mutation. It has reached Israel and is claiming many lives.”

The highly contagious variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus discovered in the United Kingdom was first reported to the World Health Organization on Dec. 14 and has since been identified in countries around the world. According to Israel’s Health Ministry, 30 cases of the variant had been confirmed in the country as of Sunday, only six of which were people known to have recently returned from overseas.

“Every hour that we delay, the disease spreads even quicker and it is exacting a heavy price. … We need the Knesset to pass this without delay, immediately. This is the saving of lives, nothing less,” said the prime minister.

Netanyahu also called on the country’s citizens to make a “final effort,” combining a tightening lockdown with the ongoing vaccination campaign.

“The health system is continuing to vaccinate the citizens of Israel at a pace that is arousing the wonder of the entire world,” he said. “We are first in the world in vaccinations. We must also be first in the world in saving lives,” he added.

According to the Our World in Data site, Israel is a world leader in vaccinations per 100 people. Since starting its vaccination drive two weeks ago, nearly 1.5 million people have received the first of two required doses of Pfizer’s BioNTech vaccine, including 115,000 in the past 24 hours, according to Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein.

“The hospitals are warning us that we are entering the most dangerous wave since the outbreak of the pandemic. The Health Ministry and the experts are warning us that we are in an emergency situation and that if we do not act immediately we will lose many hundreds of Israelis—and even more,” he said. “We must not allow this to happen, certainly not at the finish line.”


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