COVID cabinet votes to narrow usage of ‘Green Pass’ system

Vaccine requirement will remain in effect only for weddings, clubs and large parties; Bennett cites data showing immunization helps ward off effects of PIMS in older kids

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

A woman shows her 'Green Pass' as she arrives at a theater in Jerusalem, on February 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A woman shows her 'Green Pass' as she arrives at a theater in Jerusalem, on February 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The government COVID cabinet decided on Tuesday to narrow the application of the “Green Pass” vaccination certificate, ruling that it will only be required at “high-risk” events.

Under the new guidelines, which will take effect at midnight on Sunday, proof of vaccination will only be required at weddings and other similar celebrations, as well as in clubs and at large parties.

The government said the full list of the new Green Pass requirements will be distributed in the coming days. The requirement to show the pass is expected to be lifted for recreational events and cultural sites, including plays, concerts and museums, as well as at restaurants.

In addition, the cabinet accepted the recommendation to update the Green Pass so that it will be valid for all those who have either recovered or received two doses of the vaccine in the past four months, and anyone who has received three or four doses at any time. Until now, the regulations stated that Green Pass holders had to have had their most recent dose — or infection — within six months.

Despite reports to the contrary earlier this week, the cabinet also voted to extend for a further month the requirement for all incoming travelers to present a negative COVID test before boarding a flight to Israel and to conduct another test upon landing.

Ministers did however vote to lift a requirement for unvaccinated travelers to show a negative COVID test before departing Israel, regardless of the demands of the destination country. That move is slated to come into effect on February 8.

At the outset of the meeting, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that despite encouraging signs that the Omicron wave is ebbing, “we are currently at the height of the campaign. We can expect another difficult week and a half; therefore, as I have said, I do not want to see complacency as if it were over already.”

Health Ministry stats published Tuesday evening showed 168 COVID-related deaths reported since Monday morning, bringing the toll since the start of the pandemic to 8,894. There were 1,134 patients hospitalized in serious condition and nearly 438,000 active cases nationwide.

According to the ministry, there were 231 new ICU hospitalizations on Monday, the highest one-day figure since the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020, as experts warn that, while the spread of Omicron wanes, serious cases could continue to tick upward.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a press conference at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, on January 11, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Israel was among the first countries to introduce a vaccine passport system, but in recent weeks calls for it to be scrapped have grown as the government has looked to move away from restrictions and toward more robust testing.

On Sunday, the cabinet voted to extend the Green Pass for a week while it further investigated lifting or adjusting the guidelines. It also extended the requirement for several weeks at health and social services facilities, as well as among staff at educational institutions.

On Tuesday, however, the COVID cabinet said it was eliminating the requirement for twice-weekly testing for unvaccinated workers at such locations, but did not provide a date for that to take effect.

Bennett claimed Tuesday that the COVID cabinet made its decisions based solely on facts and statistics.

“Our way in the government is rational, balanced and based on facts and data,” he said. “We are not like those who say that we must run to lockdowns because the coronavirus is the end of the world, and we are not giving in to panic. On the other hand, we are not claiming that the coronavirus is merely the flu, because that is simply incorrect… we are choosing a moderate path, correct and balanced.”

The prime minister also suggested that vaccinating children against COVID-19 can better protect them from developing a rare pediatric condition linked to the virus, citing US research on children 12-18.

“At this stage, we can also say that the vaccines, especially those for children, provide a good defense against PIMS and this is certainly good news,” Bennett said in comments at the start of a meeting of the government’s COVID cabinet on Tuesday.

PIMS, or pediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome (also called MIS-C), is a rare but serious condition linked to COVID-19 that can affect many organs and typically requires hospitalization. The condition causes symptoms that may include persistent fever, abdominal pain and rashes, and is sometimes but rarely fatal.

Kids ages 5-11 receive a COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit vaccination center in the Golan Heights town of Katzrin, on December 16, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Amid ongoing low vaccination rates for children in Israel, the Health Ministry distributed a notice on Tuesday touting a report last month from the US Centers for Disease Control showing increased protection against PIMS for vaccinated children.

The CDC report, released in mid-January, shows that Pfizer shots seem to protect older children from developing PIMS. Among 102 kids ages 12 to 18 who were hospitalized with the condition, none who had received two Pfizer shots at least 28 days earlier needed ventilators or other advanced life support. By contrast, 40% of unvaccinated children required such treatment.

The CDC said that receiving “2 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is highly effective” in preventing PIMS “in persons aged 12–18 years. These findings further reinforce the COVID-19 vaccination recommendation for eligible children.”

No significant studies have been conducted on vaccination protection against PIMS in kids 5-11.

So far just 25% of children ages 5-11 in Israel have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, and just over 16% have received two doses. More than 65% of those ages 12-15, meanwhile, have received at least one shot, and 54% have had two doses of the vaccine.

Among all Israelis, 72% have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, and 48% have received at least three doses. While less than 7% of the whole population has received a fourth dose of the shot — available to those over 60, medical staff and high-risk individuals — more than 45% of those over 70 have gotten a fourth shot.

More than 67,500 new cases were confirmed on Monday, with a positivity rate of 26.37%, though the rate of spread has continued its steady decline over the past two weeks, dropping to 0.92.

AP contributed to this report.

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