Israel on Wednesday reimposed caps on gatherings and reintroduced rules requiring social distancing in businesses, amid soaring COVID-19 infection rates around the country.
The restrictions are aimed at slowing down a recent resurgence of coronavirus infections that has taken the daily caseload to highs not seen for half a year, after the country had reduced the spread to barely a dozen new cases a day, on average.
The new rules came into effect two weeks before the school year is scheduled to begin and less than three weeks before the start of the Jewish High Holidays. The government is determined to avoid ordering what would be the country’s fourth lockdown since the coronavirus pandemic started, and is pushing vaccinations, along with some restrictions, as a way to confront a tide of infections expected before morbidity drops again.
Under the new orders, private gatherings are capped at 100 people outdoors and 50 people indoors, while at event venues, the cap is 500 outdoors and 400 indoors. Additionally, no event can surpass 75 percent of a venue’s full capacity. Mass events where there are no marked seats are capped at 1,000 people indoors and 5,000 people outdoors.
Face masks are mandatory in all closed spaces, apart from one’s place of residence, as well as in outdoor gatherings of at least 100 people. Masks were already mandatory in public indoor spaces.
Malls and other businesses were ordered to enforce social distancing and limit the number of shoppers allowed indoors.
Also entering effect Wednesday is the expansion of the Green Pass system, which grants access to venues or events to those carrying documentation showing that they are vaccinated, recovered, or took a negative PCR test in the previous 72 hours.
Starting Wednesday, the Green Pass, already in place for events attended by more than 100 people, will also apply to sports and culture events, conferences, exhibitions, hotels, gyms, pools, event halls and venues, festivals, restaurants, bars, cafes, dining rooms, museums, libraries, tourist attractions, and universities and higher education colleges.
In talks overnight Tuesday-Wednesday, the government decided to remove national parks from the list of venues that only the vaccinated, recovered, or those with a recent negative test result may enter, according to the Walla news site. Both indoor and outdoor dining at restaurants, however, will operate under the Green Pass system.
Green Pass rules will be in effect for anyone aged 3 and up. The state will subsidize COVID-19 tests for children aged 3-11, who are ineligible for the vaccine, while those who are older — and therefore entitled to be vaccinated — will need to pay for the tests out of pocket.
Israel recorded 8,726 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, a new daily record in the current outbreak of the Delta variant, with the number of active infections surpassing 57,000. The ministry on Tuesday night said there were 581 serious cases, an increase of 51 since midnight.
Since the start of the pandemic, 956,310 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in Israel, and 6,704 have died, 118 of them in the last week alone.
Last month, Israel became the first country in the world to begin administering booster shots to those who are at least 60 years of age, and became a pioneer once again on Friday, as it began giving third doses to people aged 50 and older.
Out of Israel’s population of some 9.3 million, over 5.8 million have received at least one vaccine dose, and more than 5.4 million have gotten two.