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Cabinet scraps remaining ‘red’ countries, allowing Israelis to travel anywhere

Amid global COVID decline, government takes Turkey, Bulgaria and Brazil off banned list; ministers argue over requirement to scan QR codes in new Green Passes

Travelers are seen at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on September 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Travelers are seen at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on September 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The cabinet voted Friday to remove Turkey, Bulgaria and Brazil from the list of countries considered to have particularly high rates of coronavirus infection.

The update to Israel’s COVID-related travel guidelines, recommended by the Health Ministry, will go into place on Monday, and will mean there will no longer be any nations on the list of “red” countries.

Israelis will then be able to travel to any country — depending on that country’s limitations — with minimal restrictions upon return.

The current guidelines state that Green Pass holders arriving from countries designated as orange or yellow must isolate for 24 hours or until receipt of a negative test result. Unvaccinated individuals — or those whose vaccine protection has worn off — are still required to quarantine for a full week.

The number of new COVID-19 cases around the world has continued to fall, with 3.6 million new cases reported globally two weeks ago, down from 4 million new infections the previous week, the World Health Organization said.

On Thursday, 69 people returning to Israel were diagnosed with COVID-19. Of those, 41 had been vaccinated but 37 had gotten their shots over six months ago.

Travelers are seen at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on September 20, 2021. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Health officials have identified that COVID antibodies decline several months after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine used in Israel almost exclusively, leading the country to begin a booster shot drive on August 1.

According to Health Ministry data released Friday, over 6 million Israelis have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, 5.6 million have received two doses and 3.4 million have had a booster shot administered.

At the same time, ministry figures showed 4,313 new infections were diagnosed on Thursday, continuing a slow downward trend in Israel as well. The testing positivity rate was also down, recorded at 3.81 percent.

Israeli woman displays her ‘Green Pass’ for a concert organized by the Tel Aviv municipality at Bloomfield Stadium on March 5, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Sunday will see all existing Green Passes revoked, and Israelis will need to be issued new ones. These will now only be available to those whose protection is deemed to still be in effect. People who received two doses more than six months ago will not be eligible for the pass unless they get a booster.

On Friday, Kan news reported that several ministers are objecting to the new requirement that all passes must from now on be scanned at venues using their QR codes. The measure is intended to make the passes harder to fake.

Kan said Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar and the ministers from the Blue and White party all said the new policy requires further review and explanation to the public.

Elkin told Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit that since the coronavirus cabinet is convening on Sunday anyway, and since “there is no special urgency here,” there was no reason to rush the decision requiring the scanning of barcodes in a phone vote.

Ministers eventually voted to approve the decision, but agreed to hold another vote on the matter during the Sunday coronavirus cabinet meeting.

During a separate meeting Friday between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and senior education officials, the sides agreed that teachers who have not been vaccinated with all three doses will not be able to renew their Green Passes.

However, during a two-week period ending October 17, teachers will be able to get an immediate renewal of their Green Pass if they get a booster shot, and will not be required to wait seven days as others are.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks ahead of receiving his third COVID-19 vaccine shot at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, on August 20, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

According to Health Ministry data, 36 percent of teachers have not yet received the third vaccine dose. However, Education Ministry officials believe that figure will drop in the coming week.

Teachers who do not wish to vaccinate can continue to teach so long as they get tested every few days. Those who refuse to do so will not be allowed into schools.

In addition, Bennett directed education officials to expand an ongoing pilot program in which students are tested for the coronavirus every day using rapid tests, rather than PCR tests.

Several other models that include PCR testing are also being examined as the government seeks to limit the number of students in quarantine, while keeping schools open as much as possible.

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