Health official says new restrictions possible if COVID cases top 1,000 per day

Ministry official says crowd limits may be needed if transmission rate continues to climb; 30,000 young kids booked for vaccine appointments out of 1 million

People shop at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem on October 5, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )
People shop at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem on October 5, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )

Officials from the Health Ministry warned lawmakers on Wednesday that there may be a need for new virus restrictions if cases, which are on the rise, cross the threshold of over 1,000 new infections diagnosed per day.

Ilana Gans, chief of staff of the public health services department at the Health Ministry, made the comments at a meeting of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

According to the Health Ministry, 603 people were diagnosed with the virus on Tuesday.

“If we pass the transmission rate of 1.2, we will have to use restrictions to reduce crowd sizes as a first stage, including in venues operating under the Green Pass, as these are events where more infections are seen,” Gans said.

Health Ministry figures Wednesday showed that Israel’s transmission rate stood at 1.08, based on data from 10 days earlier.

Also known as the “R-number,” the figure represents the number of people each confirmed patient infects, on average. Any number over 1 signifies that case numbers are rising. The infection rate had been below 1 for two months before hitting that threshold several days ago.

Chief of staff of public health services at the Health Ministry, Ilana Gans, speaks at the Knesset’s Law and Constitution Committee, September 19, 2021 (Screen grab)

At a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet Tuesday, the first in some two months, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly warned of possible restrictions to stem COVID-19 infections during the upcoming Hanukkah holiday.

“Israel is controlling the pandemic well. We took control of the fourth infection wave without closing businesses or schools. The trend in child morbidity in Israel is worrying, the infection rate is above one, but the number of positive tests is stable,” he said, according to Army Radio.

The committee approved a government decision to extend Green Pass regulations until December 9, and the use of electronic monitoring for those in isolation (with the exception of the initial 24-hour quarantine for arrivals from abroad) until December 22.

However, committee chair MK Gilad Kariv called for quarantine enforcement efforts to focus on confirmed coronavirus carriers rather than those who had only been exposed to a sick person.

A child gets the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Jerusalem on November 23, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Coronavirus czar Salman Zarka, who is spearheading the national response to the pandemic, warned ministers on Tuesday that lax enforcement of the Green Pass system, which is meant to allow access to certain venues only to vaccinated individuals or those who recovered from COVID-19, was partly to blame for the rise in morbidity.

Gans also told the committee on Wednesday that around 30,000 young children in Israel are booked in to receive coronavirus vaccines, after Israel officially kicked off its campaign for ages 5-11 on Tuesday. Some 1 million children are eligible for the shots.

Officials have raised the alarm in recent days of rising morbidity among children, the largest unvaccinated group in the country. Health Ministry statistics show that a large share of the new infections have been in children and teenagers and children age 5 to 11 make up nearly half of all active cases.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett takes his 9-year-old son to get vaccinated against COVID, on November 23, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

According to Health Ministry data on Wednesday morning, there were 6,505 active cases in Israel, including 124 people in serious condition. There were 16 deaths in the past week, bringing the toll since the start of the pandemic to 8,178.

Over 5.7 million Israelis have received two vaccine doses, and over 4 million have had a booster shot.

Officials hope expanding the inoculation campaign to younger children will help bring down case numbers, choke off transmission chains and perhaps stave off any future waves.

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