Cabinet okays cutting virus quarantine to seven days

Health Ministry proposal would once again limit access to some public venues; government prepares to set up rapid virus test sites across the country

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

People wear protective face masks against the coronavirus inside the Sarona market in Tel Aviv, on July 13, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
People wear protective face masks against the coronavirus inside the Sarona market in Tel Aviv, on July 13, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Coronavirus quarantine will be cut down to just seven days, ministers decided on Tuesday, as the Health Ministry pushed sought to tighten other restrictions in order to curb a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

Unvaccinated people or those who have not already had COVID-19 and who have been exposed to a known virus carrier will be required to spend just a week in isolation, rather than the current 10-14 days. The same will apply to unvaccinated returnees from abroad.

On the seventh day, isolated people will be able to take a virus test and, if negative, exit quarantine.

The quarantine period currently stands at 10 days with two negative tests or 14 days without testing. Those who have not been vaccinated or have not recovered from COVID-19 are required to quarantine after exposure to virus carriers or international travel. The vaccinated and recovered are not required to enter isolation unless they are confirmed to have the virus — though all arrivals from abroad will soon need to enter quarantine for 24 hours or until they receive a negative test result, even if vaccinated.

At a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, a forum of ministers tasked with setting virus policy, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the government was introducing measures the public can live with.

“We expect from all of the public to fully comply with quarantines, with tests at the end of the [isolation] period, with vaccinations and with wearing masks,” Bennett said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, in Jerusalem on July 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We are committed to doing everything in order to protect public health with a minimum impact on daily life,” said Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz.

At the cabinet meeting, ministers also decided to set up rapid virus test sites across the country.

The Health Ministry also presented a proposal to partially reintroduce a framework limiting access to some public events.

The so-called Green Pass system, which was used temporarily in the past, would apply to indoor events attended by more than 100 people, such as weddings, performances, gyms, restaurants, cafeterias and houses of worship.

Unvaccinated people, or those who have not recovered from the virus, will be barred entry unless they take a rapid virus test outside the venue or present a negative virus test taken in the previous 48 hours.

The system would not be applied to malls, trade areas or public transportation.

The ministry also asked for a further NIS 1.5 billion ($457 million) for virus response, of which NIS 300 million ($91 million) will be used to buy more vaccines, Channel 13 reported.

There is reportedly an ongoing rift between health officials and ministers on the issue of applying restrictions and on how best to gauge the need for them. While health officials see the rapidly rising number of new daily cases as the yardstick to use, ministers prefer using the number of serious cases or deaths. While the daily caseload has soared in recent weeks, the number of serious cases has increased at a much slower rate.

On Tuesday, the Health Ministry reported there were 4,831 active virus patients and that 745 new virus patients had been diagnosed the day before.

There are 45 patients in a serious condition and the death toll since the start of the pandemic is at 6,439.

A month ago, on June 16, only 25 new virus cases were diagnosed — a striking difference. That same day, there were 27 patients in serious condition.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz speaks at a press conference at the Knesset, on July 11, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The continuing rise in new cases comes as the start of the new school year draws closer. Haim Bibas, the chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities, asked Bennett and Horowitz on Tuesday to approve setting up a system for rapid virus tests at schools and kindergartens across the country in preparation for the first day of studies on September 1, Channel 13 news reported.

Bibas argued the system is needed to prevent the disruptions experienced over the previous year, when infected students who entered schools and kindergartens would force all those they came into contact with into precautionary quarantine. Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton does not oppose the measure, although it is not clear where funding for such a system would come from, according to the report.

Bibas proposed beginning a pilot with summer camps and summer schools in order to test how such a system would work.

That matter was to be brought for cabinet discussion, according to the report.

Whereas the Health Ministry is not formally looking at vaccinating children below the age of 12, the epidemiological division within the ministry has already prepared a draft recommendation for the inoculation of children aged 5-11 who have other medical issues that compromise their immune system, Channel 12 news reported.

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)

While the draft document opens by acknowledging that, at the moment, there is no widespread vaccination effort for children aged 5-11, it also notes that “there are special situations in which vaccination can be considered at these ages,” such as cases where there is a reasonable risk of serious infection or death as a result of COVID-19.

The draft notes that Pfizer advises that children in the 5-11 age group should be given doses that are a third of the normal vaccination shot and that close monitoring of the children would be needed to identify any side effects.

After successfully bringing down the number of virus infections, Israel largely lifted restrictions it had imposed over the past year to curb morbidity. However, with the recent rise in cases, there has been talk from officials about the need to reimpose some measures.

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 coronavirus strain.

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