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Bennett warns public to take virus rules seriously, or prepare to pay up

PM declares that government decisions are not mere advice, says authorities formulating plan for smooth opening of school year

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett seen during a cabinet meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on July 19, 2021.  (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett seen during a cabinet meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on July 19, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned on Monday that authorities would not tolerate a lack of adherence to new virus restrictions, speaking ahead of a planned effort to significantly increase enforcement of regulations meant to curb the spread of infections.

“I want to say here clearly: Government decisions are not recommendations; they are binding. Whoever flouts them will pay,” the premier said according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Israel has moved to reimpose a number of measures, most significantly a mandate requiring facemasks indoors and the reintroduction of a system restricting attendance at large events to only those who have been vaccinated against or recovered from COVID-19, or who can present a recent negative test. Authorities are said to also be mulling more moves, with case numbers continuing to rise.

“Wearing a mask indoors is a requirement, not a recommendation. From Wednesday, only those who have been vaccinated or have recovered or have a negative test will be able to attend [mass] events — this is a requirement, not a recommendation. Keeping quarantine is a requirement, not a recommendation,” Bennett said. “These are a citizen’s duties.”

Israel is expected to see a major increase in enforcement this week, as local municipality inspectors work alongside police to fine people found without face coverings in indoor locations.

Those found without one can be fined NIS 500 (approximately $150). Additionally, owners of event halls where the rules are violated will be subject to NIS 5,000 ($1,500) fines.

A police officer enforces COVID-19 regulations at Ben Gurion International Airport on July 19, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The warning came a day after Bennett said that technological means would be used to check on the location of those in quarantine, asking the attorney general and public security minister to examine the legal implications of such a move.

It was also agreed by officials on Sunday that criminal indictments would be filed against those found to knowingly violate quarantine regulations, and that those who receive fines would have less time in which to pay it than in the past.

Israel has seen coronavirus cases rise sharply over the last month, after nearly eradicating the disease and removing nearly all restrictions in May and June.

The latest data from the Health Ministry on Monday showed that there were 829 new coronavirus cases diagnosed on Sunday.

People shop at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on July 15, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

There were 66 patients in serious condition as the total number of cases continued to creep upward. Of the 49,373 tests performed Sunday, 1.71 percent came back positive. There are 6,952 active virus cases in the country, Health Ministry data showed.

Three deaths on Sunday took the reported death toll in Israel since the pandemic began to 6,450.

Bennett said Monday that the government was formulating a plan to ensure the academic year can open as planned on September 1, saying that any possible changes would be announced in advance to allow people time to prepare.

“Our main goal is to open the school year smoothly. We went through a year where education was the first thing to get hurt, and we saw millions of students paying the price and zoning out in front of Zoom at home,” Bennett said. “The actions we are taking now are aimed at helping us open the school year in an organized way.”

The prime minister also warned that there were still one million people in the country who are eligible to get vaccinated but have not done so.

“Those who do not get vaccinated endanger themselves, endanger their family, endanger their friends, endanger the livelihoods of those around them and endanger the opening of the school year,” Bennett said.

An Israeli girl receives a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during a campaign by the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality to encourage the vaccination of teenagers, on July 5, 2021, in Tel Aviv (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The premier also sent greetings to Israel’s Muslim and Druze communities on the occasion of the upcoming Eid al-Adha celebration.

“Along with the joy of the holiday, I also ask for caution — I call on all the celebrants who have not yet gone to get vaccinated, to do it today, and also put on masks,” Bennett said.

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