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Cabinet mulls reimposing COVID curbs as active caseload climbs back above 3,000

Number of infected highest since mid-April; officials to recommend quarantine for parents of children in isolation; hospitality industry recoils at other possible curbs

Israelis wear protective face masks as they walk through the Carmel market in Tel Aviv, on July 5, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Israelis wear protective face masks as they walk through the Carmel market in Tel Aviv, on July 5, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Top ministers met with senior health officials on Tuesday as Israel chewed over the return of some restrictions aimed at curbing a recent resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

The meeting came as the number of active coronavirus cases climbed to 3,102, the highest tally since April 14, with 503 new infections Monday and another 262 infections from midnight to early evening Tuesday.

While the number of deaths and hospitalizations has remained relatively low, the figure has begun to climb. The 38 people in serious condition is the highest total since late May.

Health Ministry officials at the meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, a body of ministers dealing with the crisis, were slated to suggest several measures to combat the rise in morbidity, many of them aimed at the school-aged children — the country’s largest unvaccinated group. One proposal would see that the parents of children who are in isolation, due to exposure to a confirmed patient, also be required to quarantine, according to Israeli media reports.

In addition, officials were to recommend that events attended by more than 100 children require non-vaccinated participants to conduct a rapid virus test before gaining entry. Israel’s national vaccination campaign is currently only open to children aged 12 and up. The measure would also apply to those visiting old-age homes.

Other measures would require all those returning from abroad to remain in quarantine until they get the results of a mandatory virus test conducted at the airport. Currently, only those who have not been vaccinated or recovered must await their results in isolation. In addition, those entering the country would be required to do another virus test four days after they have returned to Israel.

The Health Ministry was to also recommend compulsory 14-day quarantine for all those who return from a list of some 20 countries flagged due to their high virus infection rates. The quarantine, which can be shortened to 10 days in certain conditions, would apply to all travelers from those locations, whether or not they have been vaccinated or previously recovered from COVID-19.

The proposed measures will only be applied if the daily caseload goes above 1,000, though officials were expected to tell the cabinet that figure will be reached by next week, according to reports.

The meeting ended Tuesday night without any official announcements.

Travelers seen in the arrival hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on June 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Health Ministry figures showed that the average daily caseload over the last seven days is 322, compared to a seven-day average of just 205 a week ago.

The resurgence of the virus has become a major issue for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s new government, coming less than two months after the numbers of cases had dwindled, allowing Israel to lift most restrictions and reopen public life.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said Tuesday during a conference at Ben-Gurion University that Israel was trying to battle the virus while avoiding “panic” and keeping restrictions to a minimum to enable the continuation of near-normal life.

But restaurateurs, cinema operators, and others in the hospitality industry have expressed alarm at the increasing talk from officials of a partial return to some of the restrictions on public life that were previously introduced to beat back the pandemic.

In particular, owners are concerned that the government may reapply the “Green Badge” system, which limited access to venues to those who have been vaccinated — over half the population — but effectively banned children.

Shai Berman, director of the Israel Restaurants and Bars Association,  told Channel 12 that, given that the number of serious cases is stable and relatively low, reintroducing the Green Badge system is “detached from reality.”

“I don’t see the broader public and business owners cooperating with that action,” he said.

Ofir Miller, chairman of the board of the Israel Attractions Association, whose members operate leisure and entertainment sites across the county, urged officials to think long and hard before shutting sites down.

“To our regret, we were one of the last sectors that opened after the coronavirus crisis,” Miller said. “If indeed a decision is taken to tighten the restrictions, I am hopeful that this time there will also an informed exit plan from the crisis, without discrimination between the various industries in the economy, and according to a continuous, logical, and uniform path for everyone.”

Israelis attend a movie at the Cinema City theatre on the official reopenning night after 14 months of closure during the coronavirus pandemic, in Jerusalem, on May 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Cinema Industry Association Director Danny Kafri told Channel 12 that limiting access to children “is impossible from our point of view during the summer holiday period.”

Such a measure would result in “simply impossible losses,” he said.

The leisure industries were among the hardest hit over the past year, during which lockdown measures and other restrictions largely shuttered many venues.

The resurgence of coronavirus in Israel has been largely attributed to the spread of the Delta variant, which was first detected in India and is believed to be twice as contagious as the original COVID strain.

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