Israel nears grim milestone of 4,000 coronavirus deaths

Israel on Sunday neared the grim milestone of 4,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The Jewish state recorded its first coronavirus death in late March. The death toll passed 1,000 in early September, with fatalities in the country then swiftly doubling by mid-October. On December 14, the number of COVID-19 deaths hit 3,000.

As of Saturday night, the death toll stood at 3,959. Since the beginning of 2021, 621 Israelis have died from the virus.

The mounting fatalities came as Israel’s vaccine drive continues to expand, with additional shipments of hundreds of thousands of shots set to arrive early this week.

All Israelis over the age of 45 will be eligible to receive the first COVID-19 shot through their health providers starting Sunday.

Education worker receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Jerusalem, on January 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Over 2 million Israelis have already received the first shot of the vaccine, and nearly 225,000 have been administered the second dose. By late March, Israel will have vaccinated 5.2 million citizens against the coronavirus, according to a plan drawn up by the Health Ministry.

Coinciding with the launch of the vaccination campaign has been a surge in coronavirus cases, with some 9,000 daily new infections diagnosed in recent days.

There has also been a sharp rise in fatalities and the number of patients in serious condition from COVID-19 complications. As of Saturday night, 1,184 people were in serious condition, 274 of them on ventilators.

The cabinet is set to decide this week whether to extend the tightened coronavirus lockdown which began a week ago and is set to expire next Thursday night. Channel 12 News reported Saturday that while the Health Ministry is pushing to extend the tightened lockdown measures, opposition from Blue and White and ultra-Orthodox parties could lead to them expiring Thursday as scheduled.

Israeli police on the beach boardwalk in Tel Aviv, making sure people are keeping to the government’s guidelines during a nationwide lockdown. January 12, 2021. ( Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Channel 12 revealed Friday that the percentage of seriously ill over 60 years old out of the total confirmed cases had dropped drastically in recent days from 2.5% to 1.5%.

“We are in the final stages of the coronavirus. Israel, with the scale of its vaccine drive, is showing the world that there is an exit strategy,” Ronni Gamzu, who was Israel’s COVID czar and has since returned to his job as director of Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, told Channel 12 news on Friday.

“We got used to seeing that 2.5% of the seriously ill were over sixty, that has suddenly dropped,” Gamzu said.

At least 75% of the population over 60 has received at least one shot already, indicating that the vaccine was already having an effect, even though its impact was only expected to come after the second dose.

“This 1.5% is unprecedented, I have not seen this throughout the whole period. The vaccine has a clear effect,” he said. “This shows the beginning of the end.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed last week that Israel would ramp up its vaccine drive further, to a target of administering 170,000 shots a day.

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