Ministers undergo antigen tests before cabinet meeting

AG clarifies there won’t be curbs on unvaccinated unless epidemiologically justified

After reports said government considering using restrictions to push more to get shots, Mandelblit stresses only health reasons are taken into account

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a conference of the Association of Corporate Counsel, in Tel Aviv, June 29, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a conference of the Association of Corporate Counsel, in Tel Aviv, June 29, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit clarified Sunday that he has not approved restrictions on people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 where there is no epidemiological or health justification.

Mandelblit’s statement came after media reports claimed that the government has discussed curbs on those who don’t get the shots as a way to encourage inoculation amid fears that the highly infectious Omicron variant will swamp the country with coronavirus cases.

He noted that all restrictions that apply only to the unvaccinated require a medical professional opinion from the Health Ministry.

A statement on behalf of Mandelblit said that the attorney-general sought to clarify that he “did not permit putting restrictions on unvaccinated people without an epidemiological or health justification.”

“Restrictions are first and foremost intended to prevent spread of the disease,” the statement declared.

“As such, limitations need to be based on the professional opinion of the Health Ministry regarding the epidemiological/health effectiveness of limitation and no restrictions have been imposed that do not serve the purpose of the fight against the disease,” the statement read.

Last week there were reports that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had held talks with ministers in which he discussed measures for encouraging vaccination alongside restrictions on those who are not vaccinated.

Among the ideas raised was compulsory vaccination for public sector workers, although the idea is not believed to be legally sound, Channel 12 News reported.

Requiring unvaccinated people to secure a place in a quarantine hotel before they travel abroad and present proof of the reservation when they arrive back in the country was also considered, the report said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, center left, leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on December 19, 2021. (Emil Salman/POOL/Flash90)

As daily infection rates continue to climb, government ministers were, for the first time since the start of the pandemic last year, required to undergo a rapid antigen test before they entered the weekly cabinet meeting.

A medical team from the Magon David Adom emergency service carried out the tests at Kibbutz Mevo Hama, on the Golan Heights, where the cabinet met rather than in Jerusalem. The meeting was held there as the cabinet is expected to approve a major plan for developing the region and increasing the local population.

Although virus infection numbers are going up, Bennett and other senior ministers are united in their opposition to imposing a lockdown or restrictions on New Year’s celebrations, according to Hebrew media reports.

However, there is to be increased enforcement of rules relating to the Green Pass, a certificate that grants access to public venues to the vaccinated or COVID recovered. Also, the wearing of face masks in enclosed public spaces will be more strictly enforced.

During meetings with ministers, Bennett is said to have warned that there are “black weeks ahead of us with a dramatic rise in confirmed cases” and predicted 16,000-20,000 confirmed cases by the middle of next month, the Ynet website reported.

Though resisting a lockdown, Bennett has nonetheless ordered preparations be made for one in case the outbreak eventually requires the measure.

With the expectation that in the coming weeks hundreds of thousands of Israelis could be forced into quarantine through infection or exposure to COVID patients, ministers considered easing isolation rules for those who are vaccinated and exposed to an Omicron carrier, according to the Ynet report. A meeting is to be held later this week where Health Ministry officials will present assessments of the proposal.

Meanwhile, the government is pushing for more vaccinations, setting a target of 150,000-200,000 vaccinations a day as a goal, Ynet reported. Currently, the daily rate is around 25,000-30,000.

Children receive a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a Clallit vaccine center in Jerusalem on December 21, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Vaccines are currently available for all people in Israel over the age of five.

According to Health Ministry figures Sunday, out of Israel’s population of roughly 9.5 million, 6,502,720 have had a least one vaccine shot, of which 5,876,953 have had two doses, and 4,191,735 have also had a third booster.

There were 760 new COVID cases diagnosed on Saturday, though testing is always slower over the weekends. After a week of consistently rising daily caseloads, there were 1,780 new cases diagnosed Friday.

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