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Green Pass rules for malls delayed amid confusion over enforcement

Ministers fail to reach agreement on new measures; 62 children, 2 teachers infected in Jerusalem elementary school outbreak; 10 cases of Omicron found on two flights over past week

People shop at the Hadar Mall in Jerusalem, on December 16, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People shop at the Hadar Mall in Jerusalem, on December 16, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite initial plans for malls to require shoppers to present a Green Pass starting on Friday, ministers failed to reach an agreement Thursday on the new regulations amid questions on how commerce centers would enforce them.

According to the regulations, malls would need shoppers to present proof of immunization or recovery, or a negative coronavirus test to gain entry. However, those who do not qualify would still be able to enter to shop at stores considered essential.

While the regulations had been agreed upon by health officials, ministers in the coronavirus cabinet reportedly raised several objections, with a Thursday afternoon meeting of the body ending without agreement.

Following resistance by business owners, plans have been scrapped to mandate malls to provide identification bracelets to shoppers with a Green Pass, which would allow them access to all shops, while those without the identifier would be limited to essentials.

The Ynet news site said that the bracelet plan was now just a recommendation and shopping centers could decide whether to use them. It was expected that malls would not be adopting the plan.

It remained unclear how the Green Pass regulations would be enforced without the bracelets.

People at the Hadar Mall in Jerusalem, on December 16, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Following the meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, Economy Minister Orna Barbivai told Channel 12 news that the new regulations would not come into effect on Friday since “we didn’t want to make a decision from one day to the next.”

Explaining the need for the new regulations, Barbivai said, “We want to avoid wide contagion in public places… Israelis are looking at Europe and we’re seeing the Omicron variant spreading in Europe and around the world.”

But Tomer Lotan, director-general of the Public Security Ministry, which is responsible for policing, said that the rules would be too difficult for police to enforce.

“The Green Pass [system] is possible when business owners understand the guidelines well, but in this situation it is different,” he told Kan. “We won’t be able to be [in malls] on a regular basis and it is definitely a challenge.”

The new mall rules were set to come into effect amid efforts to encourage vaccination while clamping down on the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant, as well as the Delta strain already circulating.

An Israeli health worker administers a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to a student at the al-Manahel School in the village of Majdal Shams, on December 12, 2021. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

Meanwhile Thursday, 62 students and two teachers were diagnosed with the virus in an outbreak at a Jerusalem elementary school. The Evelina de Rothschild School in the Rehavia neighborhood has switched to distance learning in an attempt to limit any further spread of the virus.

According to the Health Ministry, 3,584 out of the 6,348 active virus cases on Thursday were among students.

Elementary school-aged children are eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine, but uptake has been slow with only 9.8 percent of kids in that age group having received one dose so far, according to Health Ministry data on Thursday.

Additionally, a health official said that 10 cases of the Omicron variant had been found on two flights over the past week.

Ilana Gans, chief of staff of the public health services department at the Health Ministry, told a meeting of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee that it was unclear if the individuals had contracted the virus on the flight or in the days immediately preceding it.

“In any case [a flight] is a potential place for infection, especially when it comes to a strain that is highly contagious, despite the rate of air exchange and mask-wearing,” Gans said, without specifying where the flights had originated from.

Travelers at Ben Gurion Airport, November 29, 2021. (Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Wednesday added seven countries — France, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Ireland, Norway, Finland and Sweden — to its “red” no-fly list, while also reportedly considering expanding it further to include the United States.

On Thursday afternoon, the Knesset Justice and Law Committee authorized the earlier addition of Denmark and the United Kingdom to the no-fly list from midnight.

Israelis who do return from red countries are forced to enter quarantine in state-run hotels until their first COVID test comes back negative, after which they can leave, but must remain in home quarantine for seven days, even if they are fully vaccinated.

The cabinet also voted to extend the current travel restrictions, including the ban on foreigners entering the country and a requirement for all Israelis to quarantine for three days upon entry. The limitations will now last until December 29 at least.

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