Israel targets March as exit date from pandemic

If realised, the plan could help Netanyahu’s re-election hopes.
Sunday 27/12/2020
A Palestinian man is helped by his son as he receives a vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as Israel continues its national vaccination drive, in East Jerusalem, December 23, 2020. (REUTERS)

JERUSALEM--Israel will enter what officials hope will be its last coronavirus lockdown on Sunday as they ramp up vaccinations to a pace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said may allow an emergence from the pandemic by March.

If realised, that could help Netanyahu’s re-election hopes after missteps that include lifting a first lockdown with a premature declaration of victory in May, inconsistent enforcement of curbs and sluggish economic relief.

After beginning vaccinations a week before the European Union’s roll-out on Sunday, Israel’s centralised health system is now administering around 70,000 shots daily. Netanyahu wants that raised to 150,000 by next weekend, with the opening of 24/7 vaccination stations among proposals.

Such a pace could enable the vaccination of half of Israel’s 9 million population by the end of January. The country has logged almost 400,000 COVID-19 cases and 3,210 deaths.

“As soon as we are done with this stage, within 30 days we can emerge from the coronavirus, open the economy and do things that no country can do,” Netanyahu said in a televised address.

The conservative premier is running in a March 23 election called after his governing coalition collapsed this month.

An Israel Democracy Institute poll released on Sunday found that 40.8% of the public gave the government mostly positive ratings for its handling of the crisis’ medical aspects, while 32.2% gave it mostly negative ratings. On the economic aspects, the government’s ratings were 52.8% negative and 19.7% positive.

Sunday’s lockdown – the country’s third – will last at least three weeks and aims to tamp down contagions that are currently doubling in scale every two weeks, the Health Ministry said.

“I spoke over the weekend with the heads of the companies that are providing us with the vaccines and I told them that our goal by next weekend is to reach 150,000 vaccines a day,” Netanyahu said Saturday in a video.

“This means that within 30 days of reaching this pace we will have administered 4.5 million vaccinations,” he said. “Since everyone needs two injections, after one month we will have vaccinated 2.25 million Israeli citizens.”

Netanyahu was the first Israeli to receive a Covid-19 jab on December 19, ahead of the launch on Monday of a nationwide innoculation programme.

By Friday morning 210,000 people had received a first dose of the vaccine developed by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.

Netanyahu said he hopes the vaccination drive will help Israel “emerge from the coronavirus” allowing it to re-open its economy “and do things that no country can do”.