Israel to tighten COVID-19 lockdown in 'final effort' amid vaccine rollout

·2-min read
A medical worker tests a woman for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during Israel's third national lockdown to fight coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections in Jerusalem

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Israel will tighten an ongoing nationwide lockdown to curb a sharp rise in new COVID-19 cases, a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said on Tuesday.

The stricter lockdown - to take effect at midnight between Thursday and Friday and last 14 days - will constitute "one final effort" as the country presses ahead with its rapid vaccine rollout, Netanyahu said.

Israel is leading the world in COVID-19 vaccinations, having innoculated nearly 15% of its 9.3 million population. Officials hope Israel can emerge from the pandemic as early as February, should the programme maintain its speed.

But new cases have skyrocketed since vaccinations were launched on Dec. 19, reaching a daily tally of over 8,300 on Tuesday, the highest in months. The ongoing lockdown is Israel's third since the start of the pandemic, and was imposed on Dec. 27.

A list of detailed, tightened lockdown measures will be presented to the government for final approval within the next day, the statement from Netanyahu's office said.

"I call on all citizens of Israel: Let us make one final effort - together," Netanyahu said.

"This is how we will be the first in the world to emerge from the coronavirus, this is how we will open our economy," he said.

Even before the planned tightening, Israelis have been required to stay mostly at home, many shops have been shuttered and public transport has been limited.

The number of daily infections has risen steadily from around 1,000 at the end of a month-long lockdown imposed in September that followed one that ran from late March to early May.

Public anger has risen over the government's perceived inconsistent handling of the crisis. Israel will hold an election on March 23, its fourth in two years, after constant infighting in Netanyahu's coalition.

(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Alistair Bell)