Israel poised to lift limits on attendance for vaccinated at events

In further easing of restrictions, ministers set to allow even those who have not been inoculated to visit gyms, swimming pools

Soccer fans at a game between Beitar Jerusalem F.C. and Ashdod F.C., at Teddy Stadium, Jerusalem, on March 17, 2021. (Flash90)
Soccer fans at a game between Beitar Jerusalem F.C. and Ashdod F.C., at Teddy Stadium, Jerusalem, on March 17, 2021. (Flash90)

The Health Ministry said Sunday it would seek government approval to lift all restrictions on seating at sports stadiums and culture venues for those who have been inoculated against the coronavirus.

In general, caps limiting attendance at events by those holding a so-called Green Pass, indicating they have been either vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 infection, would be removed.

As well as rolling back curbs for those who have been vaccinated, the plans will also see an easing on public life for those who have not yet had the shots and children below the age of 16, who currently do not qualify for vaccination.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper announced the plans in a joint statement. If approved at a Thursday cabinet meeting, the new rules will go into effect on May 6, provided that daily infection rates remain at the low figures recently seen, Edelstein said, though he stressed that, at indoor events, there will still be a requirement to wear a face mask and maintain social distancing of two meters.

Under the proposal, cinemas could reopen after being shuttered for more than a year, and even those who are not vaccinated would be permitted to attend gyms, swimming pools, and other attractions that meet the government’s Purple Badge standard for stringent hygiene and social distancing measures to prevent infections.

Private functions will also be included in the steps, with 500 permitted for outdoor events and 50 in enclosed spaces.

In addition, passenger capacity on public transport, which had been limited under virus rules to just 75 percent, will be restored to maximum.

Children and those who are not vaccinated will be able to attend events for Green Pass holders if they pass a rapid virus test beforehand.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein at the annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group in Jerusalem, on March 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Due to the vaccinations, the morbidity in Israel has reached a low unseen since the start of the coronavirus, and this when most of the economy is open,” Edelstein said in a statement. “In a situation like this, easing [of restrictions] for the public can be further expanded.”

Edelstein noted that due to concerns that variants of the virus could be brought from abroad, there will be no change in the conditions for air travel for the time being.

Speaking of attendance at sports and culture events, Tropper said in a statement, “We will get to numbers that six months ago we could only dream of, all due to the tremendous cooperation of the public.”

Attendance at sports stadiums and other venues is currently limited based on the capacities of the individual locations, but with caps at no more than 50% of the maximum, and then only for Green Pass holders. The general limits on other gatherings (excluding venues for vaccinated or recovered COVID-19 patients) are set at 20 indoors, 100 outdoors.

Screen capture from video of national coronavirus czar Nachman Ash during a video press conference, April 25, 2021. (YouTube)

Earlier, national coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said health officials were considering further loosening coronavirus restrictions on public gatherings.

He said one of the ideas being looked at is enabling children who have a negative virus test within the previous 72 hours to attend events that are only for Green Pass holders. Children below the age of 16 currently do not qualify for vaccination under the national inoculation drive and therefore cannot attend such events.

At the same time, Ash reaffirmed assessments that there will likely be a need for a booster shot to vaccinations, but that it was not yet clear when those who have already had two doses will need to get it.

“I can’t say exactly when, it could be already a year after the [first round of] vaccines and it could be beyond that,” Ash said.

“We need to follow up and see when it is right to do that — the likelihood is that it will be after a year,” he said.

Regarding the approaching Lag B’Omer festival, which usually sees hundreds of thousands gather for a night of bonfires at Meron in the north, as well as bonfires held at smaller events across the country, Ash said celebrations will be permitted, but with limitations on the numbers participating and that those attending will be expected to abide by social distancing and wear face masks.

Travelers at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on April 18, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Ash maintained his advice that Israelis avoid traveling abroad and said more countries will be added to a list of seven included in a travel warning issued by the Health Ministry last week.

The countries listed in the travel warning — locations that are in a wave of infections, sparking concerns of coronavirus strains that may be more resistant to vaccines — were Ukraine, Ethiopia, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico, and Turkey.

“Anyone who doesn’t have to [fly] should put off the flight to a time when the disease also diminishes in various countries around the world,” Ash said. “Everyone should decide for themselves.”

He noted that children below the age of 16 are required to spend two weeks in quarantine after returning from trips abroad, as is anyone who is not yet vaccinated.

“I don’t see that requirement being canceled soon,” Ash said. “The pandemic has not ended.”

Ash also talked about leaked Health Ministry research showing that dozens of cases of heart disorders have been found among men, mostly under the age of 30, who have been vaccinated. Ash stressed that there could be other factors that caused the disorder.

“We see this disease every year as a result of viral infections, and it is important to differentiate if it was caused by the vaccines or not,” he said. The Health Ministry is examining whether there has been an excessive number of recent cases and will make public the findings, Ash said.

The unpublished report, details of which were broadcast Friday by Channel 12 news, said that out of more than 5 million people vaccinated in Israel, there were 62 recorded cases of myocarditis in the days after the shot. It found that 56 of those cases came after the second shot and most of the affected were men under 30.

People shop at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, April 25, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ash’s remarks came as just 38 new virus cases were diagnosed on Saturday, according to Health Ministry figures.

According to the ministry, a total of 8,752 coronavirus tests were conducted Saturday, with 0.5% returning positive. Weekend numbers are generally significantly lower due to reduced testing.

Of the 1,805 active cases in the country, there were 153 serious cases, including 91 people on ventilators, the Health Ministry data published Sunday showed. The death toll stands at 6,350.

On Friday, Israel saw its first day with no COVID-19 deaths in 10 months of the pandemic.

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.

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