Israel’s coronavirus czar Nachman Ash (right) during a visit to the Jerusalem Municipality on Nov. 22, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

While Israel currently leads the world in vaccinations per capita, the country is on Day 5 of its third national lockdown due to high COVID-19 morbidity, with an infection rate of 5.5 percent over the past 24 hours, according to Health Ministry data. As of Thursday morning there were 42,402 active COVID cases in Israel, with 1,093 patients hospitalized, 639 of whom are in serious condition. Nine COVID-19 patients died on Wednesday, bringing the country’s COVID-19 death toll to 3,314.

As the number of new cases in Israel continues to rise, the government has agreed to allow the Israel Defense Forces Medical Corps to reopen and operate a dedicated COVID-19 ward at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. The ward is slated to open next week and will be run by the IDF in conjunction with the medical center.

Israel’s National Coronavirus Project coordinator Nachman Ash warned on Wednesday in an online conference with local-authority spokespeople that “there is a big question mark about how effective the lockdown is. In the next few days, it looks like we’ll have to recommend that it be tightened.”

“I am very worried that if we race against the virus, we won’t be able to vaccinate enough people,” he said. Ash noted that the lockdown, instated Sunday, has thus far resulted in a 20 percent decrease in movement, compared to the previous two lockdowns, which saw a 60 percent drop. The degree of movement among the populace was linked to the infection rate, said Ash.

Mayors and local authority leaders who were not enforcing the lockdown rules in their communities had failed to grasp the severity of the situation, said Ash.

While acknowledging that the country’s March elections had “added more considerations to the decision-making process,” the national coronavirus czar said, “I am careful not to step into the political minefield.”

Asked when public events might be resumed, Ash said, “It’s realistic that by Independence Day [April 14], we’ll be able to hold limited public gatherings. I hope that by May, we’ll have vaccinated 60 to 70 percent of the population, which will give us a minimum of herd immunity.”

Assaf Golan and Shimon Yaish contributed to this report.