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Town is only orange one in Israel with medium infection rate

COVID-19 outbreak in Pardes Hanna, where many still refusing to vaccinate

With only 58% of residents receiving 1st shot, town known for alternative lifestyles sees 13 classes and 3 kindergartens quarantined

People sit outside at a cafe in the town of Pardes Hanna, April 27, 2020 (Screen grab/Walla)
People sit outside at a cafe in the town of Pardes Hanna, April 27, 2020 (Screen grab/Walla)

A coronavirus outbreak in the town of Pardes Hanna, known for the nonconformist attitude of many of its residents, is starting to concern health officials — though less so many of the residents, who are still proving resistant to getting vaccinated.

According to the Walla news site, a number of cases have been found in educational institutions, with children in 13 classes and three kindergartens quarantined.

With 48 active patients, the town has now been classified as “orange” under the government’s traffic light system to classify infection rates, making the town the only locality in the country not rated as “yellow” or “green.”

A drive-through test center is set to open nearby in the coming days.

According to Health Ministry figures released Monday evening, just 58.1 percent of eligible residents of Pardes Hanna have received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and only 55.6% got both shots.

The Walla report said that although concerns were rising, many who live in the town, known as a center for those practicing hippie and alternative lifestyles, were still holding out against inoculation.

“I’m not a guinea pig,” said one individual who wished to remain anonymous.

“The vaccine is still in its infancy and its success rates are not yet known, so for me it’s still experimental and I’m not ready to be a part of this performance,” she incorrectly claimed, despite the high levels of vaccine efficacy shown in research and real-world studies.

A second resident incorrectly claimed there “is no proof at all that the vaccines prevent infection.”

Keren Shalom Arava, who runs an art studio in Pardes Hanna, says she decided to get vaccinated, April 27, 2021 (Screen grab/Walla)

However, artist Keren Shalom Arava, who owns one of the many studios in the town, told the outlet that although she was worried about getting vaccinated, she decided to get the shot a month ago out of a sense of communal responsibility and worries about her sister, who was clinically vulnerable.

“I was against bringing something that is unproven and unknown into my body, but I have three children and a sister who had a kidney transplant and comes here a lot and I thought I should take responsibility not only for myself but for my whole community,” she said.

Hagar Smoli, a resident of the central city of Kiryat Ono who was visiting Pardes Hanna, criticized those in the town who were refusing to get vaccinated.

Hagar Smoli, visiting the town of Pardes Hanna, says she is angered by the low vaccination rate there, April 27, 2021 (Screen grab/Walla)

“I felt safe until I heard on the way here that Pardes Hanna has become a yellow locality with a number of verified carriers and patients, and now I am angry,” she said, a day before the town was classified as orange.

“After all the vaccinations we have received, after everything we hear is happening in the world, it annoys me —  when we have such a great solution like a vaccine,” Smoli said.

The rise in cases in Pardes Hanna came as infections continued to fall in the rest of the country.

With its aggressive vaccination drive, Israel has seen a sharp drop in daily mortality and infection rates since the pandemic peaked in late January.

As infections have dwindled, Israel has rolled back restrictions on public life, including lifting the requirement to wear face masks outdoors.

The Health Ministry said Sunday it would seek government approval to lift all restrictions on seating at sports stadiums and culture venues for those who have been inoculated against the coronavirus.

In general, caps limiting attendance at events by those holding a so-called Green Pass, indicating they have been either vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 infection, would be removed.

People shop at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, April 25, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

As well as rolling back curbs for those who have been vaccinated, the plans will also see an easing on public life for those who have not yet had the shots and children below the age of 16, who currently do not qualify for vaccination.

If approved at a Thursday cabinet meeting, the new rules will go into effect on May 6, provided that daily infection rates remain at the low figures recently seen.

Under the proposal, cinemas could reopen after being shuttered for more than a year, and even those who are not vaccinated would be permitted to attend gyms, swimming pools, and other attractions that meet the government’s Purple Badge standard for stringent hygiene and social distancing measures to prevent infections.

Private functions will also be included in the steps, with 500 permitted for outdoor events and 50 in enclosed spaces.

Soccer fans at a game between Beitar Jerusalem F.C. and Ashdod F.C., at Teddy Stadium, Jerusalem, on March 17, 2021. (Flash90)

In addition, passenger capacity on public transportation, which had been limited under virus rules to just 75 percent, will be restored to maximum levels.

Children and those who are not vaccinated will be able to attend events for Green Pass holders if they pass a rapid virus test beforehand.

Just 94 new virus cases were diagnosed on Monday, according to Health Ministry figures,

According to the ministry, a total of 39,741 coronavirus tests were conducted Monday, with 0.2% returning positive.

Of the 1,710 active cases in the country, there were 140 serious cases, including 76 people on ventilators, the Health Ministry data showed. One overnight fatality took the death toll to 6,354.

On Friday, Israel saw its first day with no COVID-19 deaths in 10 months.

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