Top health official: Remaining COVID restrictions could be scrapped in near future

Nachman Ash says no new measures are planned for Passover; transmission rate and number of serious cases falling, though Israel still seeing 10,000 new daily cases

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash speaks during a meeting at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on October 24, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash speaks during a meeting at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on October 24, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash said on Thursday that no new COVID-19 restrictions are planned, and Israel could soon scrap the measures it still has in place.

Asked in an interview with the Ynet news site whether officials were considering ending the face mask or quarantine requirements, the Health Ministry chief clarified that Israel was “heading in that direction” though it is not quite there yet.

“We’re not bringing back testing at schools, so things will pretty much stay as they are for now,” he said.

“We will have to keep mandatory face masks in closed spaces for the time being,” he said. “We might consider lifting this in the near future, but we’re still at over 10,000 new daily cases.”

“The numbers are still high; the most important thing now is to ensure that serious morbidity does not rise,” he added.

Ash also said that no special restrictions will be introduced for the Passover holiday in April, the first time in two years festivities will be held without COVID limitations.

Police officers at a temporary checkpoint in Jerusalem on April 8, 2020, amid a nationwide general lockdown aimed at preventing an outbreak of the coronavirus over the Passover holiday. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ash’s comments came as Israel was still seeing an increase in the transmission rate and new daily cases.

However, hospitalizations of patients in serious condition have held steady and even begun to show a renewed decline.

According to the latest Health Ministry data, the reproduction rate, or R number, continued to drop, standing at 1.09. The figure represents how many people each coronavirus carrier infects, with any reading above 1 indicating the virus is spreading. During late January and February, the number had been below 1, but it began to rise in early March before beginning to dip again more recently.

Of the 70,771 people who were tested for the virus on Wednesday, 17.09% received a positive result — 12,093 cases.

A worker in the COVID ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on February 9, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

According to the Health Ministry, there were 74,025 active COVID cases, with 265 in serious condition. Of those cases, 124 were in critical condition, and 102 were on respirators.

The death toll stood at 10,485.

Health officials have in part attributed the recent rise in cases to the BA.2 variant, a subvariant of Omicron that is believed to be more infectious than the original.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry announced on Thursday a decrease in the price of PCR tests for passengers at Ben Gurion Airport.

Travelers at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on March 02, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/FLASH90)

A test booked ahead of arrival will cost NIS 63.20 ($19), and one taken without a prior booking will cost NIS 79 ($25), with results in about 13 hours.

Currently, those landing in Israel are required to isolate until receiving a negative test result conducted upon arrival or for 24 hours, whichever comes first.

A bounce back after two years of travel restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has seen Ben Gurion Airport overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people flying abroad, on Sunday recording the highest daily number of passengers, some 50,000, since the start of the outbreak.

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