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Knesset speaker is 'happy MKs are returning to their places'

Knesset eases virus restrictions, allows visitors for 1st time in over a year

After journalists’ gallery was repurposed to allow MKs to socially distance, reporters now allowed back in; all seats in main hall in use for the first time in 14 months

The Plenary Hall during the swearing-in ceremony of the 24th Knesset in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)
The Plenary Hall during the swearing-in ceremony of the 24th Knesset in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

For the first time in fourteen months, Israel’s parliament will reopen almost entirely, allowing all the seats in the Plenary Hall to be occupied as well as the entry of guests into the complex, the Knesset speaker announced on Thursday.

During the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, activities in the Knesset were reduced significantly as MKs were told to abide by gathering restrictions, especially during nationwide lockdowns.

In March 2020 at the swearing-in ceremony for the 23rd Knesset, 120 lawmakers were inducted in batches of three to avoid the spread of the virus, and party leaders gave their usually festive opening remarks to an empty hall. The swearing-in for the 24th Knesset this year was a slightly larger affair.

“During the coronavirus crisis, the Knesset reached an impressive achievement as the core of parliamentary activity continued almost as usual,” Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin said on Thursday.

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin at the swearing-in of the 24th Knesset on April 6, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90)

“I am happy MKs are returning to their places and the public will be able to return and visit the parliament,” Levin said.

The rollback of restrictions will reopen the journalists’ gallery in the plenum as well as allowing larger organized groups to visit the complex in general and to attend parliamentary committees.

The journalists’ gallery above the main hall had been used by MKs over the past year to ensure social distancing was kept between the 120 lawmakers.

A worker disinfecting the Knesset on March 15, 2020. (Adine Wolman/Knesset Spokesperson’s Office)

The number of COVID-19 patients in serious condition dropped below 100 this week, the lowest level since last July as Israel’s world-leading vaccination campaign continued to show its effect.

According to Health Ministry data, there were 85 people whose condition was defined as serious as of Friday morning, with 54 of them on ventilators.

There were 48 new coronavirus cases diagnosed in the country over Thursday, taking the total number since the pandemic began to 838,850, with 1,089 active cases.

According to the ministry, 31,547 coronavirus tests were conducted Thursday, with 0.2 percent returning positive. The death toll stood at 6,374.

With its aggressive vaccination drive, Israel has seen a sharp drop in daily mortality and infection rates since the pandemic peaked in late January.

Late last month, Israel passed the milestone of 5 million people receiving both vaccine shots.

The country is preparing to start vaccinating children aged 12-15 as soon as the US Food and Drug Administration approves vaccine use for children in that age bracket, which a US federal official said Monday was expected for the Pfizer vaccine by next week.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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