As infections drop, virus czar expects Green Pass to be extended beyond 6 months

With numbers waning, citizens now allowed to fly home from anywhere, but still with daily limit of 3,000; health official warns against speedy return to normal life

Customers enjoy dining at restaurants after they were recently reopened, in Tel Aviv on March 7, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Customers enjoy dining at restaurants after they were recently reopened, in Tel Aviv on March 7, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel on Monday saw a further decline in daily new coronavirus infections and active cases, a fall in the number of serious COVID-19 patients, and a drop in the share of positive daily tests and in the transmission rate.

The figures were released as coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said that Israel’s Green Pass program would be reviewed to determine how long vaccine certificates should give the public entry into events, saying he believed they would be extended beyond their current six-month validity.

“We still do not know how long the vaccines will last. We will have to learn this from Pfizer’s studies and our data,” he told Army Radio. “The vaccine certificate will probably be valid for more than half a year — we will extend its validity.”

Under the now-relaxed virus rules, eateries are allowed to seat up to 100 people with Green Passes — indicating vaccination or recovery from the virus — indoors at up to 75 percent capacity, and up to 100 people outside, even without passes. Tables must be two meters apart. Event venues, attractions and hotels are open only to those with proof of vaccination or recovery.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash during a visit to the Jerusalem Municipality on November 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ash also said that the data showed Israel’s current situation in the pandemic was “very good,” but cautioned against celebrating against a backdrop of over 6,000 fatalities since the start of the pandemic.

Figures released by the Health Ministry Monday morning showed that 1,339 people were diagnosed with the virus over the past 24 hours, with the positivity rate at just 2.4 percent, down a half a percent from a day earlier.

With 10 more fatalities, Israel’s total death toll stood at 6,018, having passed 6,000 deaths on Sunday.

The ministry said 622 people were in serious condition Monday, down 20 from a day earlier, and 211 of them were on ventilators, a decrease of 10.

Figures also showed that the basic reproduction number, or R0, representing the average number of people each virus carrier infects, had fallen to 0.76 — the lowest point since October.

According to the Military Intelligence Taskforce, the ultra-Orthodox sector has an R-number of just 0.69, while the figure in the Arab sector stands at 0.85.

These declines are largely attributed to Israel’s successful vaccination program. Over 4.2 million Israelis have been fully vaccinated, the Health Ministry said, and over 5.1 have received at least the first dose.

Illustrative: A medical worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem on February 25, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ninety percent of those age 50 and over have been vaccinated or recovered from the virus; 51% of those 16-19; 69% of those 20-29, 46% of those aged 30-39; and 81% of those aged 40-49.

But while the Health Ministry is considering further relaxing COVID-19 restrictions and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared victory over the virus, some health experts were still warning against complacency.

Speaking to the Ynet news site Monday, Prof. Galia Rahav, head of the Infectious Diseases Department at the Sheba Medical Center, said that more could have been done to prevent the 6,000 deaths, and that a further relaxing of restrictions must be considered carefully so as not to repeat mistakes.

Prof. Galia Rahav in Tel Aviv on June 22, 2020.(Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

“You can always do better,” she said when asked if she felt that 6,000 represented success or failure. “If they had left the quarantine slower, if they had done something at the airport in the third wave so that the British variant did not come in — then I imagine it would have been possible to lower that number.”

“It’s a lot of fun to see the number of vaccinated go up, and the morbidity and the infection rate go down. But I hear people say, ‘The world is getting back to [normal] life,’ and that scares me a little bit,” Rahav warned. “I am happy that the economy has opened up, but I think we need to slow down a bit.”

Additionally on Monday, the government approved allowing Israelis, from Tuesday, to arrive from any destination with the aim of enabling citizens to reach the country in time for next week’s elections.

Previously, Israelis could only take incoming flights from a shortlist of cities in the US, Europe, and the Far East.

However, the government kept in place a limit of no more than 3,000 arrivals each day, a restriction aimed at preventing new mutations of the virus from coming in with travelers.

Passengers walk in the arrivals hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on March 8, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel’s land and air gateways have been largely closed since January 25, leaving thousands unable to return. Ben Gurion Airport has been shuttered for all but a few special flights by Israeli and some foreign airlines to bring back citizens stranded abroad. There are estimated to still be tens of thousands of Israelis who were left stranded abroad and struggling to return in time for the March 23 elections and the Passover holiday.

The Health Ministry is also is considering relaxing other COVID-19 regulations as well – including increasing permitted crowd sizes at culture and sports venues, and easing the requirement to wear face masks outdoors, Channel 12 reported Sunday.

The move to end outdoor mask-wearing could come as soon as April, the report said, following the continued drop in morbidity rates in Israel. However, Ash said Monday there were no immediate plans to drop the restriction.

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