Only 65,000 Israelis a day coming for their first shots

Edelstein mulls bill to enable employers to ban non-vaccinated workers

Health minister says those working in education who refuse to be inoculated may have to pay for a virus test every 48 hours, warns of fines for businesses that violate lockdown

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Jerusalem's near-deserted Arena COVID-19 vaccination center on February 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Jerusalem's near-deserted Arena COVID-19 vaccination center on February 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Wednesday he was considering proposing legislation that would enable employers to prevent workers who aren’t vaccinated against the coronavirus from coming in to work, and warned the rule would also apply to those in the education system.

Edelstein said at a press briefing on the virus outbreak that education workers who refuse the vaccine may even have to pay for a virus test every 48 hours if they want to keep teaching, according to Hebrew media reports.

His remarks came as the national COVID-19 vaccination campaign has slowed down recently, with around 130,000 shots administered on Tuesday, according to Health Ministry figures — far below the country’s capacity, reached in previous weeks, of over 200,000 injections in a day.

In the last three days, only about 65,000 Israelis a day have been vaccinated with their first shots, even though vaccinations are now available to all Israelis aged 16 and over.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein during a visit to a COVID-19 vaccination center in northern Israel, February 9, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

“We are checking legislation that will prevent people who are not vaccinated or who have not been tested in the previous 48 hours from working with the public — for example, to stand before a class full of students,” Edelstein said.

“It is possible that teachers who refuse to be vaccinated will need to pay from their own pocket for private tests every 48 hours,” he continued. “I am not going to fire anyone, but if someone is not vaccinated, then that is their problem.”

Israelis recieve a COVID-19 vaccine at a Maccabi Health Services vaccination center at the Givatayim mall, in Givatayim, February 4, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Urging the population to participate in the mass vaccination program, Edelstein said that the so-called green passports — a document that will enable vaccinated people to attend certain public venues and events and potentially travel abroad without quarantine — will soon be introduced.

While certain essential services must always remain open to the entire population, he said, there are venues that will be made available only to those who are vaccinated or who have recovered from COVID-19. The intention is to prevent those locations from becoming infection hubs.

“I strongly advise that anyone who wants to enjoy hotels, gyms, and some cultural events to go and get vaccinated,” Edelstein said, referring to a Health Ministry lockdown exit plan shown to ministers the day before, which set February 23 as a possible opening date for those locations.

Edelstein also discussed the approaching annual Purim holiday, which usually features parades, parties and other public and private celebrations and social gatherings.

“In order that Purim doesn’t become a black day for infections, the celebrations need to be reduced,” Edelstein said.

However, a final decision on Purim has not yet been taken, he said, and instructions on limitations will be issued closer to the day, February 25, while taking into account infection rates at the time.

The minister also issued a warning to businesses and municipal authorities that have threatened to revolt against the ongoing lockdown, now in its fifth week, and that has shuttered numerous businesses and public venues, as well as almost the entire education system. Though some restrictions were rolled back at the beginning of the week, most stores and commercial centers remain closed.

“I recommend to all those business owners and heads of authorities who think they are professors of epidemiology and medicine — be careful,” Edelstein said, noting the Knesset recently passed legislation doubling fines for lockdown violators.

“We will not hesitate to enforce this law,” he stressed.

Businesses have complained that the government has forced them to shutter for extended periods while failing to provide sufficient financial support. Thousands have closed down throughout the pandemic.

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