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Bennett, health officials said to tussle over further COVID restrictions

Report says PM questioned expert panel’s call for tighter caps on gatherings already subject to Green Pass rules

People, some wearing face masks, shop at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on September 20, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People, some wearing face masks, shop at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on September 20, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Government and health officials appeared to feud Friday over imposing additional coronavirus restrictions, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly deciding against further limitations on gatherings.

According to the Walla news site, Bennett’s decision was opposed by Health Ministry officials, who are pushing for tighter curbs on gatherings.

At a meeting Thursday, Bennett cast doubt on a forecast predicting morbidity could keep rising and questioned why gatherings that already require a Green Pass should be further restricted, Army Radio reported, citing unnamed participants in the meeting.

Under Green Pass rules, entry to businesses and events is limited to those with proof of vaccination, recovery from COVID-19 or a negative test result.

It was not clear from the report who presented the forecast. A panel of experts advising the government called for tighter restrictions on gatherings during the meeting, while Hebrew University researchers displayed models predicting new daily infections and serious cases would soon begin dropping.

Meanwhile, an unnamed government official took a jab at Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the Health Ministry’s public health chief, who has lobbied for more restrictive measures to battle the pandemic.

“Sharon Alroy-Preis’s conduct crosses all lines,” the official was quoted as saying by Channel 12 news.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on June 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The official also accused Alroy-Preis of spreading “fear and panic” in media interviews.

“What happened to her is what happened to others in the Health Ministry. She became addicted to prophecies of rage and a lack of control over the data,” the official said. “There’s an agenda here. She, Alroy-Preis, isn’t professional.”

However, unnamed ministers defended Alroy-Preis in comments to Channel 13 news, calling her a professional.

The ministers also said the Health Ministry raised the matter of further limiting gatherings but did not press for voting on more restrictions.

During Thursday’s meeting, a government advisory panel reportedly urged ministers to reconsider their approach to the pandemic, calling for a policy putting greater emphasis on reducing serious morbidity and urging more limitations on gatherings.

But Hebrew University researchers also presented a study predicting the number of new cases will decline over the next 10 days, followed by a drop in serious cases as updated Green Pass rules mandating booster shots take effect next month.

An Israeli man takes a selfie while receiving the third Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from medical staff at a coronavirus vaccination center in Ramat Gan on Aug. 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The researchers also questioned the benefit of limiting events where entry is already restricted to those with a Green Pass.

Israel’s fourth wave of infections has seen record numbers of daily cases, but hospitalizations have remained lower than in past outbreaks, which experts attribute to the country’s high vaccination rates.

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