The new government’s coronavirus cabinet will convene for the first time on Sunday, as ministers review possible steps to deal with the resurgent pandemic as a result of the fast-spreading Delta variant.
According to Channel 12 news, the Health Ministry will present the cabinet with two main strategies: the first, to quickly introduce fresh limitations to bring down morbidity; the second, to avoid limitations in the public and the economy so long as there is no significant rise in seriously ill patients.
According to the network, the cabinet is likely to pick the second strategy, while boosting testing and contact tracing for confirmed cases as well as enacting stricter enforcement on air travelers, who are seen as a major vector for new cases.
In addition, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wants to bring up vaccination rates from around 10,000 a day at the moment to some 30,000.
Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov told Channel 12 he would recommend a steep hike in fines for quarantine-breakers among those coming in from abroad, perhaps tens of thousands of shekels. “Those breaking quarantine should know they’ll get such a fine that they’ll think thirty times before breaking it,” he said.
He added that the airport could yet be shuttered again if the pandemic gets out of control.
“If we get to a high illness numbers, we’ll need to close the borders,” he said, while adding: “We shouldn’t be hysterical. We will live with coronaviruse for many years. We need to know how to control the crisis and not have coronavirus control us.”
According to reports on Channels 12 and 13, health officials reviewing the data from around the world believe vaccinated individuals are well protected from serious illness from the Delta variant, which first originated in India.
“The outbreaks are happening mostly with unvaccinated people,” Dr. Itai Pessach, Director of Safra Children’s Hospital at Sheba Medical Center, told Channel 13. “When most of the population is vaccinated, most illness will be light-to-nonexistent.”
The head of public health services in the Health Ministry, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, told Channel 12: “I don’t see a lockdown happening in the near future, but we need to act to get transmission rates as low as possible.”
On Friday Israel reimposed an indoor mask requirement as over 200 new COVID-19 cases were recorded the day before, the highest daily caseload in two and a half months, with a top health official warning the spread of the coronavirus was accelerating.
The Health Ministry said the renewed mandate took effect at noon in all enclosed spaces — except for permanent places of residence. The mandate had been lifted last week.
A Health Ministry statement said those exempt from the requirement were children under seven, people with disabilities that prevent them from wearing a mask, anyone alone in an enclosed space, two workers who work regularly together in the same room, and anyone exercising.
The ministry called on Israelis to wear face coverings when taking place in mass gatherings outdoors. It also urged those in at-risk groups or who are not vaccinated to avoid gatherings.
Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash told Kan news that he does not believe Israel is facing another major wave of infections and said he hoped that the high number of those vaccinated would prevent hospitalizations and serious illness. He noted that while case numbers have been on the rise, the number of seriously ill patients remained low.
According to Health Ministry data released Friday, the number of active cases further rose to 984, while the number of serious cases nationwide was at 27. There have been 840,638 confirmed cases in Israel and 6,429 deaths from the virus since the pandemic began.
The figures showed that the weekly average of daily cases jumped to 130. The government decided earlier this week that the indoor mask mandate would be reimposed if the 7-day average passed 100.
The Health Ministry also downgraded two locales that have seen a surge in infections under its “traffic light” system for ranking municipalities based on the severity of morbidity there. Modiin was changed from “yellow” to “orange” as the number of active cases in the central city continued to rise and the town of Kokhav Yair was changed from “green” to “yellow.”
Binyamina, a northern town near Haifa, on Wednesday was labeled “red,” the first such municipality to be categorized as a high infection area in several months. All other communities in Israel remain “green.”
The fast-spreading Delta variant that was first detected in India is believed to be responsible for 70% of the new cases in the country in recent weeks.
On Monday, the Health Ministry said it would begin a greater push to vaccinate 12 to 15-year-olds and officially recommended that they do so. While that particular age group has been eligible for several weeks, the ministry stopped short of issuing an official recommendation until Monday, and the number of vaccinations among teenagers in general has remained low.