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Israel extends national coronavirus lockdown

Israel extends national coronavirus lockdown
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE’s Cabinet voted Sunday to extend the country’s national coronavirus lockdown until at least Friday morning as Israel continues to face high infection rates. 

Netanyahu’s office announced the extension of the lockdown that has shut down most schools and nonessential businesses as it entered its fourth week on Monday local time, The Times of Israel reported

Officials also decided to keep the nation's only major airport closed until Sunday and to reinstate a mandatory quarantine for those allowed inside government quarantine hotels starting Tuesday. 

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The extension comes as Israel had forecasted that coronavirus cases and deaths would decrease by mid-January, a prediction that did not end up coming true, according to Reuters. Israeli officials point to more contagious foreign strains and noncompliance within the country for the continuing high COVID-19 statistics. 

Cabinet officials reportedly sparred over how long to stretch the lockdown, with Netanyahu and Health Ministry officials arguing for at least a week longer, while Defense Minister Benny Gantz pushed for it to conclude no later than Thursday, according to The Times of Israel.

Israel has maintained about 6,000 new coronavirus cases per day, reaching one of the highest infection rates among developing countries, The Associated Press reported. Forty percent of current cases are among children and teenagers, a Health Ministry official told Cabinet members, according to The Times of Israel. 

Overall, the country has counted more than 643,000 COVID-19 cases, leading to almost 4,800 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. More than 3 million people in Israel have received the first vaccine dose, with more than 1.7 million receiving both doses. 

Cabinet officials announced the decision following crowded funerals for two prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Jerusalem, which defied restrictions limiting outside gatherings to 10 people. Both rabbis died of COVID-19, according to reports cited by the AP.

Netanyahu, who faces an election in March, has been criticized by opponents for not responding strictly enough to large gatherings of ultra-Orthodox Jews, who as a community make up 40 percent of new coronavirus cases but 11 percent of the population.