Israeli government said to adopt ‘soft suppression’ strategy on resurgent COVID

Policy will presume coronavirus here to stay, but can be contained by vaccinating elders and immunocompromised with 3rd dose, bringing back modified Green Pass for indoor events

People walk some with face masks in Jerusalem on July 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People walk some with face masks in Jerusalem on July 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government has shifted to a new strategy on combatting coronavirus, based on the assumption that the pandemic is here to stay but can be managed with minimal damage to the Israeli economy, according to a Friday report.

Detailing the plan, Channel 12 news said the strategy has been labeled “soft suppression” and will seek to keep the number of COVID-19 cases down by vaccinating the elderly and immunocompromised populations with a third dose, while also bringing back a modified Green Pass policy for indoor events.

It said Bennett wants the cabinet to consider a “Green Pass Lite” policy next week, that will require people to present a vaccine certificate or a recent negative test result when entering indoor events, weddings, gyms, and the like. There will not be limits to the number of participants at indoor events, but the new policy will seek to prevent such gatherings from turning into super-spreader affairs.

The “soft suppression” policy — which has yet to be officially publicized — will maintain indoor mask requirements as well as close monitoring of arrivals at Ben Gurion Airport, the report said. Incoming passengers will be required to quarantine for 24 hours or until they receive a negative test result.

Bennett has instructed health officials to look into the possibility of shortening quarantine requirements so that people will be more likely to follow the directive to isolate themselves, Channel 12 reported.

Protecting the elderly will be a primary focus of the pandemic strategy, it said, alongside forming a system for rapid testing.

The report said there will be an effort to limit dramatic primetime updates on the matter — as were common in the previous government led by Benjamin Netanyahu — in order to emphasize that living alongside the pandemic has become part of the routine in Israel.

The reconstituted “coronavirus cabinet” meets at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, June 23, 2021. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Israel is closely following developments in the UK, which is also battling a recent uptick in cases due to the Delta variant, while moving to end most restrictions, Channel 12 said. Bennett discussed the matter in a phone call with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday.

The report said Bennett starts each morning with a situational assessment on the pandemic with Israeli COVID-19 numbers alongside corresponding data from the UK.

Separately Friday evening, the Health Ministry published updated COVID-19 figures, which showed that the number of seriously ill patients had risen by one since the morning to 40.

There were 345 new cases in total since the start of the day.

The number of active cases stood at 3,793 and the death toll since the start of the pandemic held at 6,434.

An Israeli teen receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at a Magen David Adim vaccination center in Jerusalem, July 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Meanwhile, of the 71,261 tests performed Thursday, 0.7 percent came back positive, similar to the rate in recent days, but higher than last month’s positivity rate, which hovered near zero on some days.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the country saw the first deaths attributed to the virus in over two weeks. In the past 30 days, just seven people have died as a result of COVID-19, according to ministry data.

The resurgence of the virus due to the Delta variant has become a major issue for Bennett’s new government, coming less than two months after cases dwindled as a result of mass vaccination, allowing Israel to lift most restrictions and reopen public life.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said Tuesday that Israel was trying to battle the virus while avoiding “panic” and keeping restrictions to a minimum to enable the continuation of near-normal life.

On Friday, the Health Ministry announced that all travelers from countries deemed to have high rates of infection will be required to quarantine, including the vaccinated. Meanwhile those returning from all other countries will need to self-isolate from late next week, but for just 24 hours or until they receive a negative result from a test conducted upon landing.

The countries considered to have high infection rates as of Friday are: The United Arab Emirates, Seychelles, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Paraguay, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Kyrgyzstan, and Tunisia.

The resurgence of coronavirus in Israel has been largely attributed to the spread of the Delta variant, which was first detected in India and is believed to be twice as contagious as the original COVID strain.

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