PM urges Israelis to get vaccinated as delta variant spreads


JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister on Thursday called upon hundreds of thousands of citizens who have not yet been vaccinated against the coronavirus to get the shot. His appeal came as new infections climbed precipitously in recent weeks.

Naftali Bennett’s televised address was the latest sign of concern in a country that has been among world leaders in vaccinating its people. Just a few weeks ago, Israel lifted almost all remaining virus restrictions.

But the arrival of the highly contagious delta variant has forced the government to reimpose the measures, including an indoor mask mandate and urge Israelis to postpone long-awaited vacations overseas.

Israel has seen new coronavirus cases rise in the past month, even though most of the population — over 56% of its 9.3 million people — has received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Most of the new coronavirus cases are of the delta variant, which has spread even among those vaccinated.

Earlier Thursday, the country’s coronavirus cabinet recommended travel bans to the U.K., Turkey, Georgia and Cyprus in a bid to restrict entry of new infections. The recommendation is expected to be formally approved next week.

The Health Ministry recorded 1,336 new cases on Thursday. The vast majority of the new cases in the past month have shown only mild symptoms, but at least 73 people have had serious cases of COVID-19. That is well below the more than 1,000 serious cases treated each day at the height of the pandemic, but up from 19 in mid-June.

“Our challenge is clear: all Israelis who can get vaccinated, should go get vaccinated,” Bennett said. “Vaccine refusers are endangering the health, surroundings and freedom of all Israeli citizens. They are endangering our freedom to work, the freedom of our children to learn, the freedom to celebrate festivities with the family.”

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