COVID: Entrance of vaccinated to Israel postponed again amid outbreak
THE ALMOST empty Ben-Gurion Airport last week.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
Amid concerns over the rising number of coronavirus cases, police to employ an SMS-based system to verify location of those quarantining.
Vaccinated tourists will not be allowed to enter Israel on August 1, as had been previously planned, Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Nachman Ash said Sunday, also announcing that the authorities will discuss measures to restrict all travel.
“We are postponing the date for the entry of tourists; it is not going to happen on August 1,” he said, adding that a new date has not been set. “Unfortunately, the current situation does not permit us to allow tourists to enter.”
The director-general also warned the public that with the Delta variant raging around the world, this is not a time to fly abroad. He said the authorities are examining how to restrict travel, either by expanding the list of countries under the travel ban or severe travel warning, or by other means.
Channel 12 reported that health official are considering several options for a recommendation to bring before the cabinet, including shutting the airport for non essential traveling and requiring all travelers to enter isolation regardless of their immunization status and the country they fly from. However, according to the report, the most likely recommendation will be to significantly expand the list of countries under travel ban or travel warning - in both cases all returnees have to quarantine, for the first group Israelis are prohibited from visiting unless they obtain a permission from the devoted special governmental committee.
Earlier on Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with ministers and officials to work on stepping up the enforcement of coronavirus regulations, which since last week has fallen under the Public Security Ministry’s responsibility.
The authorities are working to ensure the enforcement system will combine the use of technological means as well as police officers and local inspectors.
“Our goal is to establish sensible guidelines, alongside aggressive and effective enforcement against violators,” Bennett said. “Anyone who violates the guidelines endangers his health and the health of the rest of the citizens of Israel. We will not allow this. The Delta variant is soaring all over the world; implementing regulations in the field is a critical element in fighting the pandemic to defeat the mutation.”
It was decided that verified coronavirus carriers who breach isolation will be criminally charged.
In addition, Bennett instructed the ministry and the attorney-general to regulate the legal aspect of employing technological tools to monitor those in quarantine, including allowing the police to verify the location of individuals in isolation through an SMS system.
It was announced that priority in enforcement will be given to weddings and other events considered to be a high risk of spreading infections.
Starting from Wednesday, access to indoor weddings and parties with more than 100 participants will be limited only to individuals who are vaccinated, recovered or have a negative corona test, or holders of what the government has dubbed a “Happy Badge.”
Ash said that in the upcoming days, they will recommend that the cabinet bring back the full green pass system. Until the end of May, the system was used for several venues and activities, including restaurants, synagogues and gyms.
In addition, he said they are preparing for the school year, and hope that rapid testing will be an essential element of the outline to keep schools operating safely.
Also on Sunday, the Health Ministry announced that participants in summer camps will be asked to show a green passport, a recovery certificate or a negative coronavirus test taken within the previous 72 hours. The requirement applies also to outdoor programs.
As more and more people need to be tested, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz announced that the number of testing stations around the country will increase and their operating hours expanded.
While at the moment the only widely available tests are PCR tests, the government is also working on making rapid tests – also known as antigen –, as well as at-home tests, easily available.
Earlier in the day, Horowitz said the possibility of another lockdown exists, but the government is not considering it as of now and the goal is to avoid it.
“Of course it is possible that there will be another lockdown, but we are not discussing it now,” Horowitz told Army Radio. “Everyone can understand that if there is a huge outbreak here, including in serious morbidity, we will get there. We are taking measures so that we are not going to need it.”
Some 430 new virus carriers were identified on Saturday, with 1.47% of the 33,000 tests processed returning a positive result. The previous day, there were 1,120 cases out of 76,000 tests – the highest since March.
At the beginning of June, Israel was registering 10-20 new cases per day. The new outbreak apparently started in some schools and quickly spread.
While the increase in serious morbidity – which is considered to be the most important parameter – has remained limited, the number of patients in serious condition is nonetheless on the rise. Sixty-three patients were in serious conditions on Sunday morning. Four weeks ago, there were 19.
At the peak of the pandemic in January, there were about 1,200 patients in serious condition, a number that placed an unprecedented strain on the country’s health system. Months before, experts were suggesting that hospitals could handle up to 700-800 serious patients without compromising the quality of the care.
Ash said the number of serious patients is expected to further increase.
On Friday, Bennett said the Pfizer vaccine is less effective against the Delta variant, which currently represents the vast majority of cases in Israel.
“We do not know exactly to what degree the vaccine helps, but it is significantly less,” he noted.
Israel is conducting research to understand what is causing the drop in efficacy, Ash said, and whether the time elapsed since receiving the two shots is the central elements or other factors – like age or background diseases – have a significant role.