Israel’s new, relaxed Green Pass requirements went into effect at midnight Sunday, part of a further easing of COVID restrictions that coincides with a slowdown in the Omicron wave of the pandemic.
Israelis no longer have to flash their Green Passes, which show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test at restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and hotels.
The current Green Pass is 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.
Proof of a valid Green Pass will still be required upon entry to indoor sites where there is a higher risk for infection such as event halls and dance clubs.
The measures also see the removal of crowd limits on gatherings where organizers check for Green Passes, the removal of “Purple Pass” requirements at commercial sites that required businesses to limit capacity at stores and the removal of the requirement to keep a 1.5-meter space between tables at restaurants.
The new rules will remain in place until March 1.
Health Ministry Director General Nachman Ash said the decision to nix the Green Pass in most cases was due to its lack of “effectiveness.”
“Because Omicron also infects the vaccinated, the [Green] Pass has lost effectiveness in most places and we decided to reduce its use to only high-risk places. It is part of the trend of living with the virus,” he told Army Radio.
Israel eased the restriction with case numbers dropping rapidly, but the country is still seeing a rise in the number of patients hospitalized in serious condition as a result of COVID-19, a measure that usually lags by several weeks.
The number of serious cases hit 1,263 on Sunday, the highest number since the onset of the pandemic, according to new Health Ministry data. By Sunday evening the number had dropped slightly to 1,255.
Before rising to 1,229 on Saturday, the last time the number of serious patients was close to that figure was in January 2021, with 1,193 serious COVID-19 cases. The number of serious patients has been steadily rising since late December — when there were just 75 such cases — as a result of the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
The ministry said serious cases were much more common among the unvaccinated: Among unvaccinated patients aged 60 and up, there were 415.6 serious cases per 100,000 people compared with 35.9 for their vaccinated counterparts.
Some 37,985 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed on Saturday, with a test positivity rate of 28.79% — also the highest rate since the beginning of the pandemic. Experts say the true number of cases is probably much higher and testing is more limited on weekends. On Saturday, over 146,000 PCR and antigen tests were conducted, down from around 400,000 daily tests a week ago.
In total, there were 2,815 people hospitalized, of whom 374 were in critical condition, according to ministry data.
The transmission rate (measuring the average number of people each infected person spreads the virus to) continued to fall, reaching a value of 0.86.
The transmission rate is based on data from 10 days earlier and any value below 1 shows that the pandemic is shrinking. In December, the R-value shot up to 2.12, but has since been on the decline.
The death toll stood at 9,180, with at least 20 new fatalities recorded on Sunday and revised data adding dozens more who died in recent weeks.
Coronavirus czar Salman Zarka told Kan public radio on Sunday morning that the pandemic is currently stable in Israel, citing the low transmission rate, but added “we have not reached the end of the virus wave.”