Top health official: New restrictions on the way amid ‘worrying’ virus case rise

Nachman Ash says further measures being weighed to stem COVID resurgence ‘without harming economy’; ministers said set to expand list of ‘high risk’ countries, tighten Green Pass

Women, one wearing a mask as a measure of protection against the coronavirus, stroll in Jerusalem, July 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Women, one wearing a mask as a measure of protection against the coronavirus, stroll in Jerusalem, July 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash expressed concern Monday over the continued rise in coronavirus cases, saying that the government’s next step would be to “tighten” some of the existing regulations in place to battle the resurgent outbreak.

“The situation is worrying,” he said at a press briefing after Health Ministry figures were released showing that more than 2,000 people were diagnosed with the virus for a fifth consecutive day.

Ash said that health officials were weighing additional measures to reduce morbidity.

“The next steps will be tightening the Green Pass and additional options — as much as possible without harming the economy,” he said of the system that allows the vaccinated is to attend public events, and calling on Israelis to adhere to the virus rules currently in place.

“We can’t become complacent,” he said.

The Health Ministry is planning to recommend that ministers expand the Green Pass so that it also applies to children under 12 and at indoor events with fewer than 100 people, Channel 12 news reported Monday.

The network said health officials were also pushing for masks to be made obligatory when in a crowd of more than 20 people, including outdoors.

According to the Ynet news site, the Health Ministry is planning to recommend that the government expand the list of “high risk” countries from which travelers to Israel are allowed entry but forced to quarantine for seven days.

Travelers stand in line to get coronavirus checks upon arriving at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, July 1, 2021. (Nati Shohat/ Flash90)

Currently, the list includes the UAE, Uganda, Seychelles, Guatemala, Honduras, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Liberia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Namibia, Fiji, Panama, Paraguay, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cambodia and Kenya. Additionally, there are 14 countries from which travel to Israel, even for fully vaccinated Israelis, is banned: UK, Spain, Turkey, Russia, India, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Cyprus.

A meeting of the ministerial committee tasked with leading the government’s COVID-19 pandemic response will convene Tuesday amid the continued rise in morbidity rates.

According to Health Ministry figures released Monday evening, there were 2,122 COVID-19 cases confirmed the previous day, with 2.96 percent of the 80,696 tests performed coming back positive.

There were 217 serious cases Monday, up 17 from midnight Sunday. Of those, 48 people were in critical condition, with 43 of them on ventilators.

The death toll ticked up to 6,486, with nine fatalities in 24 hours.

In total there have been 878,931 confirmed COVID cases in the country since the pandemic began.

A day after Israel officially began its campaign to administer third shots of the coronavirus vaccine to people over 60, Ash said Monday that 45,000 people have received the booster shots so far, urging anyone who has not yet been immunized to do so.

He added that he wasn’t aware of any “special side effects” among the elderly who received third shots.

An Israeli man is seen after receiving a third Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the Israeli city of Ramat HaSharon, on July 30, 2021. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told healthcare executives Friday that the government’s goal is to give booster shots to 1.5 million Israelis above the age of 60 in the next week.

In an interview Saturday with Channel 12, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz defended Israel’s decision to approve third vaccine shots for the elderly rather than wait for US regulators, as it did before beginning to use coronavirus vaccines last year.

“Any wait or delay in making the decision would cost lives. More people would develop serious morbidity or die,” he said.

Horowitz, who at 56 is too young to get a third dose, said his parents will get booster shots.

He was also asked about the prospect that the government will impose further restrictions to stem the rise in cases.

“My policy is a balanced policy,” he said, stressing his aim was to balance the fight against the virus with allowing Israelis to work and go to school. “I don’t want a lockdown and will refrain [from] a lockdown at all costs. There were terrible consequences.”

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