Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Medical worker prepares a Covid-19 vaccine injection at a Meuhedet HMO vaccination center in Jerusalem, January 13, 2021.

Deputy Director-General of Israel’s Health Ministry, Prof. Itamar Grotto, told Army Radio on Thursday morning that “we will consider whether and for how long to extend the lockdown – at the moment we do not see a stabilization or a decrease in morbidity.”

You can say that again. The Health Ministry’s data for Thursday morning included 9,388 new verified cases of Covid-19, based on 121,485 test results obtained Wednesday. As of Thursday morning, there are 1,063 severe patients, out of whom 273 are on respirators. The death rate from the pandemic has risen to 3,826. On the vaccination front, 1,934,685 Israelis have received the first round of vaccines, and 104,346 have received the second round.

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Speaking of vaccinations, there has been a steep decline in demand for those. After the first shipment of vaccines there was a run on the vaccination stations, at the moment, with the second shipment of vaccines already distributed, two-thirds of the HMO appointment schedules remain open. At the Clalit HMOs, about 65% of the appointments remain vacant, which means tens of thousands of Israelis are reluctant to set their appointments. Likewise at the Meuchedet and Leumit HMOs. Only at the Maccabi HMO, the situation is more encouraging – only about 25% vacancies. This may have to do with Maccabi’s aggressive SMS campaign, complemented with frequent staff calls made to members’ phones, encouraging them to get vaccinated.

There’s more. New data show that in cities where Corona morbidity is high, the number of quarantined individuals is low. At the bottom of the list are localities in the Haredi and Arab sectors: in Modi’in Illit only 1.26 people enter isolation per verified patient, in Bnei Brak 1.28, in Nazareth 1.3, in Beitar Illit 1.43 and in Jerusalem 1.53.

This means that in those municipalities many hundreds, possibly thousands of individuals who should be staying at home, having been in contact with a Corona patient, don’t. In non-Haredi and non-Arab cities the situation is far more encouraging: in Eilat 5.28 people enter isolation for every patient, in Modiin 5.03, Hod Hasharon 4.82, Ness Ziona 4.55 and Givatayim 3.91.

Not all the individuals who opt to keep walking among the healthy and possibly infect them are doing so illegally. Many manage to obtain release from solitary confinement through an appeal. But, yes, most of them simply ignore the SMS messages they receive about their contact with a coronavirus patient and evade isolation.

Ever the optimist bunch, Israel’s Health Ministry has begun planning the stages of returning to routine life, and on Wednesday night published its outline for exiting the lockdown, just in time for the evening news. In the first phase there will be a return of the education system, but without fifth- and sixth-graders, along with the reopening of commerce, including malls. Supposedly, fifth- and sixth-graders should continue preparing for their Bar- and Bat-Mitzvah undisturbed.

In the second phase, which will take place between two weeks and a month after the first phase, Israel will see the reopening of the culture industry, as well as the partial reopening of gyms and pools. In the third phase – restaurants, cafes, and banquet halls.

The Health Ministry estimates that the country is currently at the peak of morbidity, but next week will see a decrease, making talk about leaving quarantine life somewhat more realistic. Always darkest before dawn and all that.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.