Bennett sought lockdown for unvaccinated, was blocked by health officials – reports

PM, health minister said to clash over bid to impose severe restrictions to curb Omicron variant, agree to up enforcement of Green Pass rules

Illustrative: Prime Minister Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz hold a press conference at HaKirya military base in Tel Aviv, November 26, 2021. (Moti Milrod)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz hold a press conference at HaKirya military base in Tel Aviv, November 26, 2021. (Moti Milrod)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett ordered officials on Thursday to look at imposing restrictions on people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19, his office said in a statement.

Bennett met with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and other senior officials from a range of ministries during a situational assessment on the coronavirus outbreak.

The prime minister instructed officials to examine the possibility of restrictions on those who did not avail themselves of vaccines in the national vaccination campaign, which currently offers shots to anyone age five and up. The statement did not specify what restrictions were under consideration.

According to Hebrew media reports, Bennett proposed banning unvaccinated Israelis from leaving the country or ordering just them into lockdown, noting that the latter measure has already been taken by other countries.

According to sources present at the meeting, Horowitz and health officials, in a heated exchange, opposed Bennett’s ideas. Sources told outlets that the prime minister had edged toward more extreme positions in dealing with the virus outbreak.

At the meeting, a decision was made to improve enforcement of the Green Pass system with a focus on immediate fines for those who violate the rules. The Public Security Ministry will lead preparations with police for tightening enforcement.

Children aged 5-11 receive their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, at a vaccination center in Safed, northern Israel, December 3, 2021. (David Cohen/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.

Another meeting was scheduled for later in the day to review travel rules at Ben Gurion International Airport. Fears of the spread of the new COVID mutation Omicron led Israel to shut its borders to foreigners in late November and institute a mandatory three-day quarantine for all those who arrive — even those who have had three vaccine doses.

Bennett’s move to crack down on the unvaccinated came as the number of patients in Israel in serious condition with COVID-19 dropped below 100 for the first time since July, according to Health Ministry data released Thursday.

There were 96 people seriously ill, with 62 of them classified as critical. The number of seriously ill patients has been steadily dropping for several months as the fourth wave of the virus has tapered off.

The majority of serious cases are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, the data showed.

After a rise in the number of new cases for three days in a row, Wednesday saw a drop, with 651 diagnoses.

Hospital workers wearing safety work in the coronavirus ward at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on October 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The positive test rate for the virus was 0.69 percent.

The virus reproduction number, R, was given as 1.09, having steadily climbed from 1 over the past few days. The transmission rate is based on data from 10 days earlier and any value above 1 shows that the pandemic is growing.

There were 5,971 active cases in the country, with 1,348,486 reported cases since the start of the pandemic.

The death toll stood at 8,210, with no fatalities since Monday, the ministry said. Over the past seven days, seven people have died of COVID-19.

Israel has made vaccination its central tactic in dealing with the virus, last month adding children aged 5-11 to older groups already eligible to get the shots.

So far, 6,389,878 people in Israel have had at least one dose, while 5,786,594 have had a second shot and 4,112,353 a third.

The figures came as Israel, along with the rest of the world, has grappled with the spread of the new and highly contagious Omicron variant of the virus.

The most recent figures released for the strain were on Monday, when the Health Ministry said that 21 cases have been confirmed in Israel so far.

Starting Thursday, confirmed carriers of the Omicron variant will be required to quarantine for 14 days, instead of the 10 days mandated for confirmed carriers of other coronavirus strains.

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