Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday that he hoped not to impose new restrictions despite a rise in the number of new virus cases, citing the lack of increase in the number of patients hospitalized.
“There is an increase in the number of cases but at the moment there is no increase in the number of people hospitalized,” Bennett said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “Our strategy is the maximum protection of Israeli citizens with the minimum violation of routine.”
“Masks instead of restrictions, vaccines instead of lockdowns,” Bennett said.
“I am appealing directly to young people: I know how much you want to enjoy the summer, and you will be able to,” the premier said. “We do not want to impose any limits — not on parties, or trips or on anything. But precisely because of this, if you do not want to have limitations, go out today to get vaccinated. Talk to your parents and get vaccinated.”
Bennett also appointed Roni Numa to take charge of COVID-19 policy at Ben Gurion Airport, after recent outbreaks in the country came from people who had arrived from abroad. Numa previously oversaw action to try to counter the widespread coronavirus outbreaks among Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population.
Bennett’s comments came as as two central Israel cities were downgraded from green to yellow in the Health Ministry’s color-coded ranking system on Sunday, amid a rise in COVID-19 cases said to be mostly due to the Delta variant of the virus.
On Saturday, 97 cases were identified in 37 different locales in the country. Another 18 cases were travelers who had arrived from abroad.
The Health Ministry on Sunday morning downgraded localities that have seen a surge in infections under its “traffic light” system for ranking municipalities based on the severity of morbidity there. Herzliya and Kfar Saba were designated yellow, as was the West Bank settlement of Zufim.
Meanwhile the central city of Modiin remained orange, and the northern town of Binyamina stayed red after cases there rose to 152.
Binyamina’s outbreak was the first major spread of the virus in Israel in recent months, and apparently began with a student who came into contact with an infected person who recently arrived from abroad.
The Delta variant of the virus, first identified in India, is more contagious than other variants and may be better able to bypass vaccines, but apparently does not cause serious infection. The transmissibility of the Delta variant over the original strain is around 40%, according to the United Kingdom’s Public Health agency. The effectiveness of two vaccine doses for protection from hospitalization is at 96%, according to the agency.
Despite the apparent surge in Delta cases in Israel, serious cases and hospitalizations in the country have remained relatively stable.
In the past month, just eight people have died from virus complications. There are 26 people listed in serious condition as of Sunday morning, down from nearly 1,200 in January during the peak of the pandemic in Israel.
On Sunday evening, the new government’s coronavirus cabinet is set to convene for the first time, to discuss the possibility of returning some restrictions amid the rise in cases.
On Friday, Israel reimposed an indoor mask requirement, as over 200 new COVID-19 cases were recorded during the previous day, the highest daily caseload in two and a half months.
The Health Ministry also called on Israelis to wear face coverings when taking part in mass gatherings outdoors, and urged those in at-risk groups or who are not vaccinated to avoid gatherings. Officials are also reportedly weighing whether to recommend the wearing of masks outdoors as well as whether to place restrictions on gatherings.
The Health Ministry said Sunday morning that 113 people had been diagnosed with COVID-19 a day earlier, with 0.4% of test results coming back positive.
According to Health Ministry data, the number of active cases in Israel now stands at 1,175.
There have been 840,850 confirmed cases in Israel, and 6,429 deaths from the virus since the pandemic began.
Last week, the Health Ministry said it would begin a greater push to vaccinate 12- to 15-year-olds. While that particular age group has been eligible for several weeks, the ministry had previously stopped short of issuing an official recommendation, and the number of vaccinations among teenagers in general has remained low.
According to the Israeli Pediatric Association on Sunday, 1,417 children have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, 226 of them in moderate to critical condition.
The association followed the Health Ministry in recommending the vaccine to those over 12 years old.
As of Sunday, 6% of 12-year-olds in Israel have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccination. Among 13- to 15-year-olds, 9% have received one dose, with that number climbing to 62% of those aged 16 to 19.