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Ministers okay return of Green Pass; plan to ban travel to UK, Cyprus, Turkey

As of next Thursday, Israelis will once again need to present proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID, or a negative test, to attend certain events

Illustrative image: A woman shows her green pass as she arrives to watch a play at the Khan theater in Jerusalem, on February 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative image: A woman shows her green pass as she arrives to watch a play at the Khan theater in Jerusalem, on February 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As daily coronavirus cases continue to climb, ministers approved reinstating the “Green Pass” on Thursday, limiting attendance at large events to those who are vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19, or who present a valid negative test result.

The renewed restrictions will apply to both indoor and outdoor events with over 100 participants, starting on July 29. The requirement to present proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test from the past 72 hours will only apply to people older than 12. Under that age, there will be no restrictions.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said the Green Pass will also be reinstated at sporting events, gyms, restaurants, conferences, tourist attractions and houses of worship, while stressing there won’t be capacity limitations on gatherings or at these venues.

The statement also said that starting August 8, coronavirus tests for those eligible to be vaccinated who choose not to do so will have to be paid for out of pocket.

The decision was approved by the so-called coronavirus cabinet, a high-level ministerial forum tasked with leading the government’s pandemic response. It must still be ratified by the government, and is set to be voted on Sunday during the weekly cabinet meeting.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office described the new measures as being part of an “organized and comprehensive plan that will provide a response to the outbreak of the Delta variant in Israel.”

Israelis, some wearing face masks, walk in Tel Aviv, on July 22, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Ministers also voted during Thursday’s meeting to add the United Kingdom, Georgia, Cyprus and Turkey to a list of countries Israelis are barred from traveling to over COVID fears. The latter two are among the most popular destinations for Israeli tourists.

If approved by the government, the ban on visiting those countries will begin July 30.

Currently, vaccinated travelers arriving in Israel must quarantine for 24 hours, or until they receive a negative result for a test taken upon landing — whichever comes sooner. Unvaccinated travelers have to quarantine for seven days and receive a negative test when the week is over.

As of last week, all those returning from countries deemed to have high infection rates are required to quarantine for a full seven days, even with a negative test result, according to the Health Ministry’s updated guidelines. The full quarantine period was recently shortened from the previous 10-14 days.

The countries that are currently off-limits for Israelis are Uzbekistan, Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico and Russia, with anyone traveling to those destinations subject to a NIS 5,000 ($1,500) fine, as well as quarantine.

Travelers arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, on July 1, 2021. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

According to Channel 13 news, a minor shouting match broke out during the meeting when Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz interrupted Economy Minister Orna Barbivai when she asked why the Green Pass would be needed for gyms.

“Don’t cut me off. If you yell I’ll yell louder. Calm down,” Barbivai was quoted as shouting at Horowitz, who responded he was trying to answer the question.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, a leading critic of government restrictions, voted against reinstating the Green Pass.

“What is this madness? I’m not willing for kids to pay for tests. You’re punishing them,” she was reported as saying by Channel 12 news.

The network also reported that Bennett said during the meeting that one central reason for the renewed Green Pass was to boost vaccination, but was told by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit that this was “a problematic statement,” as any measure seen as punitive would encounter legal difficulties.

After COVID morbidity and mortality reached record lows, following a mass vaccination campaign, Israel has seen a jump in infections that has been largely blamed on the Delta variant, a more contagious coronavirus strain that was first detected in India.

According to Health Ministry figures released on Thursday, 1,336 new cases were diagnosed the day before, with active infections further climbing to 9,673.

The number of patients in serious condition further ticked up, reaching 72. The death toll remained steady at 6,455.

Over 77,000 tests were performed on Wednesday, the highest number since early March, with over 1.7% of them showing a positive result.

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