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Deputy health minister predicts nearly all virus restrictions will go in 3 weeks

Yoav Kisch tells Knesset plenum that if infection numbers continue to remain low nearly all limitations will be lifted; opposition lawmaker demands house virus committee be set up

MK Yoav Kisch, then chairman of the Interior Affairs Committee at the Knesset, on July 12, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Yoav Kisch, then chairman of the Interior Affairs Committee at the Knesset, on July 12, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch predicted Wednesday that within a few weeks Israel will lift nearly all its restrictions on public life that were introduced to combat the coronavirus pandemic, as infection rates have slid so low the measures will no longer be needed.

“As morbidity continues to decline, we can reach a situation where, in my estimation, in three weeks’ time, the State of Israel will be almost without restrictions and that is an amazing achievement,” Kisch said in the Knesset plenum during a discussion about the virus outbreak.

He noted that as of next week, Israelis holding a Green Pass, showing that they have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19, will be more or less restriction-free.

“In another three weeks from today, if the morbidity continues to drop, we will release and reduce the limits completely,” Kisch said.

Kisch’s remarks drew a demand from New Hope MK Yifat Shasha-Biton that a special committee set up to deal with COVID-19 be convened.

Shasha-Biton formerly chaired the Knesset Coronavirus Committee while she was still a member of Kisch’s Likud party. She repeatedly clashed with government decisions on applying restrictions. Ahead of the recent March elections she left Likud to join Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope.

Amid political fighting in the wake of the inconclusive elections, many Knesset committees have not been set up, among them the coronavirus committee.

MK Yifat Shasha-Biton at a Knesset coronavirus committee meeting on July 19, 2020. (screen capture: Knesset livestream)

Shasha-Biton told Kisch that the committee needs to be formed to attend to ongoing issues related to restrictions as well to prepare for an upcoming drive to vaccinate children.

Those under 16 are currently not included in the national inoculation program, which is credited with bringing down infection numbers, but approval to vaccinate younger age groups is expected in the next few months.

“A Knesset Coronavirus Committee should be set up that can discuss government decisions,” Shasha-Biton said. She noted that Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar, as chair of the Arrangements Committee, was holding up the process. The Arrangements Committee forms other committees following elections until a government is established.

“There are many dramatic things on the agenda that need to be discussed transparently, professionally, in a matter-of-fact way, so that the public can know and understand why decisions are made as they are and so that it can cooperate with us,” she said.

Kisch responded that the government will back establishing such a committee only if it is chaired by a lawmaker from the parties that back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

New Hope is among the bloc of parties seeking to replace Netanyahu. Currently, neither Netanyahu’s bloc nor the one that opposes him has a majority in the Knesset or a clear path to reach one.

On Tuesday the government approved rolling back more restrictions allowing children and those who cannot be vaccinated to attend cultural events, eat at restaurants and enter gyms if they have recently tested negative for the coronavirus.

As infections have dwindled, Israel has rolled back restrictions on public life, including lifting the requirement to wear face masks outdoors, which ended last week.

With its aggressive vaccination drive, Israel has seen a sharp drop in daily mortality and infection rates since the pandemic peaked in late January. Since the start of the outbreak last year Israel was placed under three lockdowns, the last of which began in January and has largely been lifted over the past few months.

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