Photo Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO
PM Netanyahu and Health Minister Edelstein present their phased reopening plan. Feb. 24, 2021

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein held a briefing for the public on Wednesday night during which Netanyahu presented a five-phased plan for Israel’s exit from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis by the end of April.

The Public Security Minister, the Israel Police Inspector General, the Health Ministry Director-General, the national coronavirus project director, the head of the Public Health Service, the MDA Director-General, and the heads of Israel’s HMOs were all present at the briefing, held ahead of the Purim holiday as part of the effort to prevent a renewed outbreak of the pandemic

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Netanyahu recalled last Purim when “there was a dangerous outbreak that infected very many and you remember that we had to close down the country. This cannot recur.”

“We must follow the rules. This is incredibly important because we really are on the verge of exiting from the pandemic,” he stated.

He said the goal is to reach 6,200,000 people over the age of 16 who have been vaccinated or have recovered from the virus.

Israel is 1,200,000 people away from this goal and Netanyahu blamed fake news on the lack of progress.

“They say the vaccine is unnatural, that it is a foreign body, that there are side effects, that it has not been tested. They have said this about all of the previous vaccines in the past 150 years. I would like to underscore something: The virus is a foreign body that attacks the body. The virus is an unnatural thing that attacks the body. The vaccines are the defense. This is a mighty gift to humanity,” he declared.

“I ask you to not believe the fake news. Go be vaccinated. The vaccines save lives. The vaccines prolong life,” he emphasized.

“Around the world, citizens are waiting for vaccines; in the State of Israel, vaccines are waiting for citizens. This must change immediately,” he said.

The first stage has already commenced in which 81% of Israeli citizens eligible for the inoculation are vaccinated, at least once, and the Green Passport program to open the economy is in motion.

The second stage, the second week of March, is the gradual opening of education for the grades that are still learning from home.

The third stage is the second phase of the Green Passport in the second week of March, to further open the economy.

The fourth stage is to finish vaccinating the entire population over age 16 by the end of March.

The fifth stage and final stage is the full opening of the economy in April.

“This Passover we will again ask – why is this night different? And this time we will answer – this night we are all vaccinated,” he concluded.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein noted that “it is not certain that we will be able to celebrate Pesach as usual, no one in the world knows the answer because it all depends on each and every one of us. The government and doctors alone cannot guarantee it – only nine million citizens in Israel.”

The Ministry of Health updated Wednesday night that it documented 4,428 new COVID-19 cases over the past day.

Of the 74,374 tests done over the weekend, 6.2% returned positive.

785 of the patients hospitalized with Corona are in serious condition, 261 of them are on life support.

Over 4,590,000 Israelis have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, some 49.5% of the population.

5,660 Israelis have died of the virus.

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Aryeh Savir is director of the International division of Tazpit News Agency.