The high-level coronavirus cabinet on Tuesday evening approved a raft of new restrictions that will go into effect on Sunday, August 8, after the daily COVID-19 caseload surpassed 3,000 for the first time since March.
Under the new rules, which the ministers adopted on the advice of Health Ministry officials, masks are to be required outdoors for gatherings of 100 people or more; in-office work for public servants is to be scaled back to 50 percent, with the private sector encouraged to allow employees to work from home; and vaccinated caretakers of infected children under 12 years old are to be required to self-isolate.
In its effort to contain the renewed COVID-19 outbreak, which has been blamed on the fast-spreading Delta variant, the government also agreed to expand the Green Pass system to all gatherings from August 20 — not merely those with over 100 people, as is currently the case — and restrict access to public venues to unvaccinated children.
The government said young children will also need to be tested to enter venues. This rule will also only go into effect on August 20 to allow time to set up a rapid testing system.
The Green Pass was partially reinstated by the government last Thursday, with entry to events of more than 100 people — both indoors and outdoors — allowed only to those who are vaccinated, recovered, or who present a negative COVID test. However, children under age 12 were largely exempt from the system and smaller gatherings had no limitations.
The government also plans to step up advocacy to encourage Israelis to stop “shaking hands, hugging, kissing, and avoid any gathering indoors that is not essential,” according to a government statement. It will also encourage those over 60 to avoid gatherings or be in the same room with the unvaccinated.
In addition, the government plans to further extend the list of destinations from which Israelis must self-isolate upon returning to Israel, regardless of their vaccination status, so that arrivals from most of the world will need to quarantine.
During the meeting, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said restrictions will need to be tightened further if the pace of vaccinations doesn’t go up, Walla news reported.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of Bennett’s Yamina party, asserted that “the only way” Israel can avoid a fourth national lockdown is to vaccinate a million people in a week, according to Channel 12 news.
The network quoted Shaked as expressing agreement with former IDF general Roni Numa, in charge of COVID policy at Ben Gurion Airport, who called for a lockdown so Israel can vaccinate more people and build up a rapid testing apparatus.
Additionally, the Health Ministry is advancing an effort to push off the start of the school year from September 1 amid concerns over rising coronavirus cases, Kan news reported.
The report said the aim of that proposed move was to delay a potential flare-up in cases when students return to classrooms, and noted that there are only a handful of school days next month anyway due to the High Holidays.
Earlier Tuesday, a slate of new countries from which even vaccinated travelers must quarantine from next Wednesday, August 11 — including the United States and much of Europe — was approved by a Knesset committee.
Ahead of the coronavirus cabinet meeting, the Knesset Labor, Health and Welfare Committee approved the Health Ministry’s request to add 18 more countries to the list of destinations from which all returnees will require a seven-day home quarantine and two negative tests.
The new additions are: the United States, Germany, France, Greece, Egypt (including Sinai Peninsula), Ukraine, Italy, Iceland, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Botswana, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Tanzania, Malawi, the Czech Republic, Cuba, Rwanda and Tunisia.
Countries already on the list are: the UAE, Myanmar, Guatemala, Honduras, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Colombia, Fiji, Mongolia and Cambodia.
Costa Rica, Seychelles, Zambia, Paraguay, Uganda, Liberia, Panama and Kenya will be removed from the list as of Sunday, and the 18 new countries will enter the list officially next Wednesday.
The same quarantine rules apply for Israelis who return home from the countries that Israelis are banned from visiting: Spain, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico, Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Cyprus, Turkey, Georgia and the UK. Returnees who left Israel after the ban went into effect are also expected to pay a fine of NIS 5,000 ($1,500).
Overall, 42 countries are on the list of those from which returnees must quarantine for seven days with two negative PCR tests — or 14 days without.
Updated Health Ministry figures released Tuesday evening showed 2,052 new coronavirus cases and another COVID-19 death since midnight. The positive test rate for the day stood at 3.08 percent.
In total, there are over 22,727 active infections, including 221 serious cases, of which 47 are on ventilators.
Israel has confirmed 882,391 infections and 6,495 deaths from the coronavirus since the pandemic began.
According to the ministry, 5,792,114 people have gotten at least one vaccine dose, 5,382,603 have received two shots and another 142,334 have been administered an additional booster.