The Week Ending 1/8/2021 In Israel
IIsrael's fight with the Coronavirus has come down to a race between the number of people who can be vaccinated vs. the rapidly increasing number of those infected. Two weeks ago, the government announced a series of restrictions, supposed to constitute a partial lockdown, with the goal of limiting the spread of infections. This set of rulings was taken late and had no impact. A decision was made not to close most of the schools, except for grades 4-10. Then, the Knesset ultimately voted not to close grades 4-10, meaning that Israeli schools were operating normally. Virtually the only entities the government decided to close were the malls— which should never have been reopened during a period of increasing infection rate — as well as some street-side stores.
With traffic only slightly down, infections continued to soar. This has been especially true in ultra-Orthodox communities, where large-scale weddings continued to occur; which brought the infection rate in the ultra-Orthodox community to over twice the national average. As a result, a tighter lockdown was imposed, beginning midnight on January 7th. The significant aspect of the latest lockdown is the closing of schools. This step should have a substantial impact on the infection rate in the coming weeks, since the schools have repeatedly been the significant source of infection spread in the country. It's not at all clear whether the ultra-Orthodox will keep their schools closed next week, or not.
On the very positive side, Israel has continued to inoculate its population against Covid–19 with lightening speed. Over 1.7 million Israelis have been vaccinated; a number that represents an astonishing 18% of the population. It is estimated that 70% of Israelis over 60 have been vaccinated already. It is hoped that by next week the numbers of Israelis with Covid–19 will start to reflect those vaccinated, and begin to go down. There is hope the impact will produce a marked decreased in the numbers of those who are seriously ill.
For a while, it looked as if Israel would have to slow down its vaccination efforts. Early this week, Moderna sent Israel 100,000 vaccines, which Israel will use to vaccinate homebound elderly, and other hard to reach populations. However, last night, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that Pfizer has agreed to ship one million of additional vaccines to Israel in the coming month, starting this Sunday.
Pfizer's agreement will allow Israel to vaccinate the entire population by the end of March. Pfizer agreed to give Israel purchase preference, in return for access to anonymized health data on those receiving the vaccine, turning Israel into an excellent large-scale lab for analyzing the results of the vaccine. This week the HMOs providing the vaccinations will face additional challenges, as the initial group of those who received their first shot will be due to receive their second dose, starting Sunday. I am scheduled to receive my second shot on Tuesday. Consequently, they need to continue vaccinating the public with the first dose, while vaccinating those who already received their first with their second.
Considering the fact that the upcoming election is in March, this has been a quiet week in Israeli politics. It has become increasingly evident that Prime Minister Netanyahu's campaign will be one big bet that Israelis will be vaccinated by election day( March 23), and that all of the government's mistakes this past year will be forgotten.
Meanwhile, the most interesting development in the opposition parties this week was the introduction by Tel Aviv Ron Huldai of four very accomplished women who will be part of his party, "The Israelis". Huldai also promised his ticket and his party at-large would be evenly balanced between men and women.
Also this week, a court ordered the remainder of the Labor Party to hold full-fledged primaries. The court was responding to a suit by MK Merav Michaeli. Current Labor leader Amir Peretz hoped to maintain his control of what is left of the party, by having the central committee alone determine the next party list.
Michaeli's victory in court motivated some Likud members to seek the same relief from the court to Netanyahu's decision not to hold primaries — That decision remains pending.
Meanwhile, to the consternation of many, the court that was to hear the case against Netanyahu this week delayed the court date, due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
(In the future, I hope to expand this section)
One of the most exciting pieces of business news this week, was the announcement that Elbit Systems was awarded a 20-year contract to create and operate a flight school for the Greek Air Force. Beyond the agreement's monetary benefits, it underscores the deepening strategic partnership that has been developing between Israel and Greece.