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PM said considering further measures to encourage unvaccinated to get COVID shots

Mandatory inoculation for public sector workers, requiring parents to pay for children’s PCR tests among options reportedly discussed; report says travel restrictions may be eased

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A woman gets a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccine center in Jerusalem on November 28, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A woman gets a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccine center in Jerusalem on November 28, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is considering measures aimed at encouraging more Israelis to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, including mandatory inoculation for public sector workers, Hebrew-language media reported Wednesday.

Bennett has asked officials in the health and defense ministries to put together a framework for further restrictions in order to motivate Israelis to get the shots, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

However, Health Ministry officials are said to be wary of any attempts to try and pressure citizens into getting vaccinated, believing the potential moves could be counterproductive, reports said.

The idea of compulsory inoculation for the public sector has been raised in the past but serious legal complications were identified.

So far 6,339,189 Israelis — about two-thirds of the population — have had at least one shot, of whom 5,777,367 have had two doses and 4,084,328 all three vaccine doses, according to Health Ministry figures published Wednesday.

In addition to mandatory vaccination for public sector workers, recent discussions with officials have also included a proposal that PCR tests will no longer be free for children over the age of five, Channel 12 news reported.

That also faces legal problems and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit is reportedly “unenthusiastic” about the idea, the broadcaster said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on November 21, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/pool/Flash90)

Unvaccinated Israelis, including children, are required to take a PCR test that shows a negative result in order to obtain a Green Pass, a certificate that grants access to public venues and large gatherings to those who are vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19. Under current health orders, many venues are supposed to check the Green Pass of everyone seeking to enter.

Meanwhile, the controversial use of Shin Bet security service tracking via the cellphones of those infected with Omicron will be ended if the number of cases of the variant in Israel passes 150-200, according to Channel 12. The report said officials assess that by that point the benefit gained by the tracking becomes insignificant.

Another proposal raised by officials was to require unvaccinated travelers abroad to make reservations for state-operated quarantine hotels for when they return to the country, Channel 12 said. However, the idea was shelved as only those who return from so-called “red countries” with Omicron infections, which Israelis in any case have recently been banned from visiting, are required to enter quarantine hotels.

Some tightening of measures was already planned to start Thursday with a Green Pass checkpoint to be set up at the entrance to Ben Gurion Airport, Kan reported.

Travelers seen arriving at the Ben Gurion Airport, on November 28, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Entry to the airport will only be granted to those who are actually flying and not others who are accompanying them. The no-escort restriction began when the pandemic started but has not been enforced.

As the government looks at tightening health rules inside the country, it was also said to be looking at easing tough travel restrictions that were imposed at the beginning of the week amid fears that the Omicron virus strain was spreading to Israel.

In a snap move, entry to the country was banned for 14 days for all non-citizens while all returning Israelis, including those fully vaccinated, were required to enter self-quarantine for at least three days sandwiched between a pair of PCR tests.

In light of World Health Organization announcements that existing vaccines appear to be effective against the Omicron strain, government sources told Channel 12 news on Wednesday that if the encouraging indications continue, there will be less justification for maintaining the limitations imposed on international travel.

Children aged 5-11 receive their first first dose of Covid-19 vaccine, at Clallit vaccination center in Jerusalem on November 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The recent restrictions, which were imposed for two weeks, are expected to be lifted before that deadline, Channel 12 reported.

Government sources said the intention is to show the public that while the authorities can quickly impose restrictions when necessary, they can also rapidly remove them.

There are so far two confirmed cases of Omicron in Israel and another four who are strongly suspected to have the strain, which is believed to be highly infectious, the network said. The results from the genetic sequencing of swabs from the suspected patients are expected to be ready by Friday morning.

Channel 12 reported that PCR tests able to identify Omicron with 98 percent accuracy have already indicated that all four are all infected and the genetic sequencing is just to confirm the results.

Medical workers give a COVID-19 test at a drive-in testing compound in the Golan Heights, July 7, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

The report of tightening restrictions came a day after increasing calls for mandatory vaccination, both in Israel and abroad.

On Wednesday, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said it was “time to think” about imposing inoculation on all citizens of the European Union.

Hours earlier, Israel’s coronavirus czar Salman Zarka said the country should weigh introducing a national vaccine mandate compelling all citizens to get themselves inoculated against the coronavirus.

“I think we need to examine all the options, including the option of mandating vaccination in the State of Israel,” Zarka told Radio 103FM in an interview.

Zarka stressed that the opinion was his alone and not that of the Health Ministry.

Currently, all Israeli citizens over the age of five are eligible for vaccination.

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