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Ministers rule to keep Green Pass requirements, even with virus on the decline

Coronavirus cabinet discusses ways to incentivize booster shots, after nearly 2 million lose eligibility for document; 575 serious virus cases, lowest since mid-August

A woman shows her 'Green Pass' as she arrives at a theater in Jerusalem on February 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A woman shows her 'Green Pass' as she arrives at a theater in Jerusalem on February 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The high-level coronavirus cabinet on Sunday decided to uphold the restrictions barring access to certain venues to the unvaccinated, following its first meeting in over a month.

The panel decided to retain the new Green Pass requirements, despite Health Ministry officials reportedly wanting to cancel the rules for outdoor gatherings. Health officials wanted to move to the lower-tier “Purple Badge” standard for stringent hygiene and social distancing measures for outdoor restaurant spaces, gyms, outdoor attractions, swimming pools, museums, and libraries — a proposal that was ultimately dismissed.

The meeting came as nearly 2 million Israelis technically lost access to a Green Pass — which grants access to public venues for those who are either inoculated against COVID-19, or have recovered from it, or have recently tested negative — under newly updated immunity guidelines. The government, however, postponed the implementation of the new rules after the online Health Ministry system crashed early Sunday, preventing Israelis from obtaining their new permits.

The cabinet of ministers ruled that from Tuesday, Israelis would have to scan the pass’ QR code when entering public areas that require it, rather than the participants just displaying certification. Previously, the QR code was not required to be scanned.

And from Thursday, police will begin to enforce the updated guidelines, and will be checking if business owners and event organizers are scanning participants’ Green Passes.

Ministers also ruled that school children visiting museums in organized trips, will not need to provide a separate negative virus test to visit the institution, as they had already provided one to their school. Separately, municipal libraries will also be exempt from requiring scanning the Green Pass for those entering to just borrow books, the cabinet ruled.

During the meeting, Health Ministry officials presented data on the country’s current COVID situation, with an emphasis on the morbidity in the Arab community, and its vaccination rate. A plan of action to address the subject was also presented, a statement on behalf of the coronavirus cabinet said.

Cabinet ministers in the statement also said that the government’s strategy, which “keeps the economy open and prevents lockdowns, works,” as Israel appears to be exiting the fourth virus wave.

“At the same time, it is stressed that the guidelines must continue to be kept, and that extra care must be taken to maintain the current situation,” the statement said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, on September 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“Friends, the news is good. We started to curb the Delta [variant],” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said during Sunday’s meeting.

“But especially now, it is dangerous to relax. Especially when the virus is retreating, we can’t let it recover. We need to continue to manage the situation closely, and not broadcast to the public that masks are being removed, to the contrary,” Bennett said.

On Friday, the number of Israelis hospitalized in serious condition due to COVID-19 dropped below 600 for the first time since August 17, according to figures from the Health Ministry. On Sunday, that number stood at 575. Of those patients, 420 were unvaccinated, 105 received only two of the three vaccine doses, and 35 patients had received all three shots.

According to Health Ministry data, over 6 million Israelis have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, 5.6 million have received two doses, and nearly 3.5 million have had a booster shot administered.

Israel — the first country to officially offer a third dose — began its COVID-19 booster campaign on August 1, initially rolling it out to those over the age of 60. It then gradually dropped the eligibility age, eventually expanding it to everyone aged 12 and up who received the second shot at least five months ago.

There are only some 800,000 Israelis eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine who have not yet received their first dose, according to ministry data.

Of the nearly 65,000 samples tested on Saturday, 2.76 percent (or 1,719) came back positive. The number of total active cases stood at 38,842, with the death toll since the start of the pandemic rising by five to 7,811 on Sunday.

A woman receives a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit health care center in Jerusalem, October 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sunday’s coronavirus cabinet meeting, the first in over a month, comes after a public spat between Bennett and health officials over the imposition of new restrictions, which the premier opposes. In a briefing with Israeli journalists in New York, Bennett accused the medical experts advising the government of “not seeing the full picture” and stressed that they do not make the final decisions — the government does.

“I feel that in recent days the public is beginning to understand the policy that this government has been pursuing,” Bennett said during Sunday’s meeting according to Ynet.

“Consistently, since the outbreak of the Delta. Israel is as open as possible, the economy is as open as possible. There is a mass of tests, vaccines, and boosters,” he added.

Starting on Thursday, the Green Pass will be valid for six months after a person’s last vaccine shot, a change in policy that will affect between 1.7 million and 1.9 million Israelis, according to Hebrew media reports.

The Health Ministry said that 1,030,000 new Green Passes were issued on Sunday, when the old passes were originally due to expire. But due to the crashing of the ministry website and app as Israelis rushed to download new Green Passes, existing vaccination or recovery certificates will still be used to allow access to various public spaces until Thursday.

One may also obtain a temporary Green Pass with a negative virus test, which the person being tested must pay for, unless the individual is not eligible for vaccination.

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