Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and senior Health Ministry officials agreed Tuesday to require Israelis to present proof of immunization or a negative coronavirus test to enter shopping malls, as another 22 cases of the new Omicron variant were confirmed, bringing the number of cases in Israel from the highly mutated variant to 89.
Under the proposal, security guards will scan the Green Pass of any shopper, who will then receive a bracelet granting entry for the day. Those eligible for the pass must be vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID-19, or provide a negative test result.
Anyone without a Green Pass can enter malls but will not get a bracelet, limiting them to essential businesses such as pharmacies and grocery stores. Other shops will be required to check shoppers’ bracelets before accepting their business.
According to Hebrew media reports, many stores have vowed not to comply with the new rules and plan to petition the High Court of Justice against it.
“We will not label customers. If the State of Israel wants us to stand at the entrance to the mall, it should send police. Mall employees won’t make this differentiation,” shop owners were quoted as saying by Channel 13 news.
Yisrael Beytenu Minister Eli Avidar signaled he would oppose the measure. “This is a hasty move without any epidemiological logic nor connection to reality. This is a blow to business owners and a blow to citizens,” he tweeted.
Avidar added: “The democratic public is losing the trust it still has left, and blames those who lend a hand to this madness.”
Bennett and health officials also agreed Tuesday to update quarantine rules for arriving travelers, which the government has moved to tighten amid fears over Omicron.
Immunized Israelis returning from “red” countries with high case rates will be allowed to quarantine at home for a week rather than being sent to state-run isolation facilities. A negative test result will be required to exit quarantine.
Those without proof of immunity will be sent to state-run facilities to isolate but will be allowed to complete the quarantine at home if the test they take upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport comes back negative.
The changes could prevent overcrowding at the facilities as the Health Ministry moves to expand the list of “red” countries that Israelis are barred from visiting, a step that could send more returning travelers into extended periods of quarantine.
Currently, all Israelis coming from “red” nations must isolate at state-run hotel facilities for at least 10 days, though they can be released to their homes to finish isolating if they test negative for Omicron.
The proposed rules — which must be approved by the government and the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee — are due to take effect Friday.
According to Channel 13 news, during Tuesday’s meeting Bennett proposed marking all countries that do not specifically test for Omicron as red, to be on the safe side. Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz was said to retort: “Are you mad? There won’t be any room in the coronavirus hotels.”
The Health Ministry said 57 of the 89 Omicron cases were in arrivals from abroad and 21 were people exposed to someone who’d recently returned from overseas. The other infections were the result of community spread.
Among the confirmed cases, 67 people were listed as “protected,” meaning they had received a booster shot or were administered their initial two vaccine doses or had recovered from COVID in the past six months. The other 22 confirmed infections were contracted by the “unprotected.”
The ministry said it was awaiting the genetic sequencing results from another 150 cases in which there was a “high suspicion” of Omicron.
Between the confirmed and suspected cases, the Health Ministry said 94 were symptomatic infections. Israel has so far reported only one serious Omicron case — an unvaccinated man who was hospitalized — and no deaths.
According to Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public services at the Health Ministry, Omicron is more contagious than past variants and is better able to evade vaccines. However, she also noted it has caused fewer fatalities and less severe morbidity than previous COVID-19 outbreaks.
The government has imposed a number of restrictions to prevent Omicron from spreading in Israel, including barring foreign tourists and requiring at least three days of quarantine for all arriving travelers, regardless of immunization status.
The Health Ministry has also begun updating the list of “red” countries daily, a move that could reduce flights abroad by making it difficult to plan trips in advance. The United Kingdom and Denmark are set to be added to the list at midnight between Thursday and Friday.