The Health Ministry is weighing restricting travel and access to certain public venues for Israelis who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a television report Thursday.
Under the proposal being considered, those who refuse to be inoculated will only be allowed to fly, attend certain events, dine at restaurants or frequent cultural venues by providing a recent negative result from a coronavirus test, according to Channel 12 news, which quoted unnamed senior officials.
Health officials were also reportedly considering barring medical personnel who refuse vaccination from working in coronavirus wards or intensive care units.
The proposal, which could encourage Israelis reluctant to be vaccinated to do so, is expected to encounter legal challenges if adopted.
Also Thursday, the Health Ministry said medical workers would be first to receive the vaccine, followed by the elderly.
Those under 16, women who are pregnant, people with serious allergies and Israelis who have recovered from COVID-19 won’t be vaccinated, reports indicated.
But Channel 12 also said ministry director-general Chezy Levy was looking at the possibility of not closely policing the order of vaccination, as the public may at first be hesitant to get inoculated. If the ministry has enough doses and not enough public interest, officials may simply allow anyone who wishes to be vaccinated, the report said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein met Thursday with heads of health maintenance organizations (HMOs), which will be responsible for dispersing the vaccine.
“Our aim is to give 60,000 vaccines a day… starting on the 27th of the month. These are difficult targets, but they are possible to achieve,” Netanyahu was quoted saying in a Health Ministry statement.
Levy said Israel would approve Pfizer’s vaccine for use several days after the US Food and Drug Administration does.
Emergency approval could come from the FDA in the coming days, after a panel of experts on Thursday endorsed the widespread use of the vaccine, saying it was safe and appeared to be effective for those 16 and older.
Levy, speaking at a Hanukkah event, also warned that infection numbers are mounting across all strata of society.
“We see a rise in the number of sick daily and also in the weekly average. It’s not just because there’s more tests,” he said.
He warned that Israel’s viral reproduction rate, which represents the average number of people a COVID-19 carrier infects, was at 1.24. “This is a high [rate],” he said, noting that it had been at 0.8 when Israel emerged from lockdown.
Any rate above 1.0 indicates the spread of the pandemic is accelerating.
Earlier Thursday, the government dropped plans to tighten restrictions over the Hanukkah holiday, its second apparent policy reversal in under a week.
Ministers instead agreed to tighten health rules when the number of daily cases hits 2,500, Hebrew media repots said.
The decision came after ministers in the so-called coronavirus cabinet protested the plan to ban Israelis from visiting other people’s homes during the evening hours of the eight-day holiday, which begins on Thursday night. It was unclear how police would have enforced such an order at any rate, as they cannot legally enter homes without a warrant.
Netanyahu agreed to scrap the Hanukkah rules following consultations with Edelstein and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, according to Channel 12. Another proposal to impose a nightly nationwide curfew was similarly abandoned earlier this week after facing legal obstacles.
Thursday is the first night of the eight-day holiday of Hanukkah, which is often marked by extended family get-togethers in the evening for traditional candle-lighting events. The government has consistently attempted to impose restrictions over holidays throughout the pandemic, fearing that gatherings will bolster the spread of the virus.
According to the Ynet news site, Science Minister Izhar Shay of Blue and White voted against the decision to hold off on Hanukkah restrictions but impose harsher ones later on.
“We’re deciding that within a week we’ll go into ‘tightened restraint,’ and in three weeks to a full lockdown. We’re also voting on a lockdown. The tightened restraint doesn’t bring down the numbers, let’s not kid ourselves,” he was quoted saying.
Netanyahu shot back saying, “I tried to impose a curfew, you were opposed. You got a lockdown,” the report said.
Health officials have warned that another nationwide lockdown — the third since the start of the pandemic — could be unavoidable as the number of cases continue to rise. Israel imposed its second nationwide lockdown in mid-September over the High Holidays, and it remained fully in place until mid-October, when the government began to gradually lift the rules. It has yet to lift all the restrictions imposed at that time.
Daily infection numbers were at 1,858 on Wednesday, the Health Ministry said Thursday, the second time this week that the daily caseload has been over 1,800 and, alongside Monday’s 1,854 cases, the highest rate since October.
As of late Thursday, there were 16,045 active cases, 316 people were in serious condition, 98 of them on ventilators. Over 73,000 tests were conducted on Wednesday, with 2.5 percent returning positive.
The death toll since the start of the pandemic stood at 2,961.