Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that while the country’s nationwide lockdown has dramatically lowered COVID-19 morbidity, lifting the restrictions would be a drawn-out process.

In his opening address to the coronavirus cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that, prior to the lockdown, “Israel was ranked first in morbidity per capita in Europe.”

“We imposed a lockdown, and we came down quickly,” he said. “The other countries of Europe that did not impose lockdowns and did not impose tough restrictions—went up quickly. Belgium, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands—all these countries now have higher morbidity than ours, other than Germany, which is also going up.”

In a post to his official Twitter feed, the prime minister said Israel’s COVID-19 morbidity was among the lowest in the world.

Therefore, said the prime minister, Israel now needed to do three things.

“First, to preserve the success of the lockdown, which has been achieved with your help, citizens of Israel. You made a great effort here, and I thank you. Second, to transition from stage to stage gradually. There will not be nine stages; there will be fewer, but they will be gradual. Third, if we see that there is an increase again, which is now happening in European countries, we will be compelled to reimpose some of the restrictions.”

Together, he added, “we will succeed.”

According to Israeli Health Ministry data, of the 39,348 COVID-19 tests administered on Tuesday, only three percent were positive, down from a peak of just above 15 percent at the height of the so-called second wave of coronavirus spread. The daily increase in recorded cases on Wednesday stood at 1,168, bringing the total number of active cases to 21,154, 602 of which were classified as serious. The total death toll from the pandemic stood at 2,278, with no new deaths being reported since Tuesday at midnight.

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