Cabinet okays new restrictions on shops and venues, as cases spike further

Starting Monday, stores must once again limit customer numbers; from Wednesday, nearly all non-commerce businesses must require Green Pass proof-of-vaccine for visitors

Hospital staff wearing safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward of Ziv Medical Center in the northern city of Safed on August 11, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Hospital staff wearing safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward of Ziv Medical Center in the northern city of Safed on August 11, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The cabinet on Wednesday approved several new coronavirus restrictions that will take effect next week, including further limits on gatherings, Green Pass restrictions on most institutions and businesses, and renewed Purple Badge requirements on all stores, limiting the number of customers inside.

The country, which appeared to have put the coronavirus pandemic behind it just a few months ago after a cutting-edge vaccine drive, is now re-imposing regulations in a bid to clamp down on rising infections.

The Green Pass system, which limits entry to venues to those who are vaccinated, recovered or with valid negative tests, will be applied from August 18 to nearly all locations, excluding commerce. These include swimming pools, gyms, academic institutions, sporting and cultural events, conferences and exhibitions, museums, libraries, restaurants and hotels.

The limitation will apply to all people over the age 3. Children under the age of 12 who are not currently eligible to vaccinate will be able to take rapid tests for free. Anyone unvaccinated over the age 12 will need to pay for their tests.

Meanwhile, starting August 16, Purple Badge requirements will take effect, limiting stores to one customer per seven square meters. Participants at mass events will be capped at 1,000 people in closed spaces and 5,000 in open spaces. For private events Green Pass limitations are not required; only 50 people will be allowed inside and 100 people will be allowed outside.

A health worker uses A COVID-19 rapid test at a Magen David Adom station in Jerusalem on August 11, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Weizmann Institute of Science computational biologist and top government adviser Eran Segal told ministers this week that broadening booster shot eligibility to all people over the age of 40 could prevent the health system from collapse in September, Channel 12 reported.

Only those above the age of  60 along with specific groups such as the immunocompromised Israelis are currently eligible to receive a third booster shot, which the government began distributing late last month.

Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the government would be “giving a booster” to the country’s healthcare system as new coronavirus cases continued a precipitous climb. He said Israel had to prepare for a situation of mass hospitalizations, and was allocating NIS 2.5 billion ($774 million) to help boost capacity at hospitals nationwide.

Despite its vaccination campaign, Israel has seen new coronavirus cases rise in recent weeks. The Health Ministry recorded 5,755 new cases by Wednesday evening, the highest daily figure since February, and serious cases have grown from 19 in mid-June to 400.

At least 6,580 Israelis have died from coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to Health Ministry figures.

Over 58% of the country’s 9.3 million citizens have received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Israel had secured a large supply of the Pfizer vaccines in exchange for medical data.

“The Delta variant is flooding the world and we are waging a determined campaign to fight it,” Bennett said in televised remarks.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and police chief Kobi Shabtai during an inauguration ceremony marking the opening of a new police station in Kiryat Ata, August 11, 2021 (Roni Ofer/Flash90)

Bennett also said a plan for health maintenance funds to place patients in so-called home hospitalization would be expanded from 1,000 beds to 1,400 beds. Funding will also be provided to add medical staff to the health funds and geriatric care centers.

His announcement came a day after health officials reportedly showed him figures forecasting that within a month Israel could see hospitals overrun with 4,800 coronavirus patients, half of whom would be suffering from serious bouts of COVID-19.

Israel would need to add 100 doctors, 500 nurses and 200 other health workers and support staff every 10 days to keep pace, the officials had told Bennett, according to a summary of the meeting published by the Ynet news site.

“We have to raise hospital capacity to buy time until the vaccination campaign goes into effect and starts to stem the outbreak,” Bennett said Wednesday, referring to Israel’s campaign to provide booster shots to some of those who have already been vaccinated.

He described the move as “a campaign for health, but also for the economy,” acknowledging the tension between attempting to bring case numbers down by implementing far-ranging restrictions while seeking to keep businesses open.

“I’m pained by every serious illness, by every family that loses someone to the coronavirus or the Delta variant, but I’m also pained by every business owner who loses everything because the crisis collapses his company or for every kid who spends 200 days at home and wastes away on Zoom,” he said.

Outgoing health minister Yuli Edelstein at a ceremony to install his replacement, held at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, on June 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Separately on Wednesday, former health minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud) tore into the current government over its handling of the pandemic, saying it had received a country with the case rate at almost zero and managed to quickly squander the opportunity.

“The experts are the same experts, and the coronavirus is the same coronavirus. The wrong and careless management of this crisis has caused what we’re seeing now,” Edelstein told Channel 13.

Asked how he would have acted differently if still in his old post, Edelstein said he would have made decisions quicker, claiming the current government has taken too long to act — though this was a criticism of the previous coalition as well.

Edelstein added that even if a lockdown is instituted tomorrow, it will take several weeks for cases to decrease because the current government waited too long to act.

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