Virus czar advises against unnecessary travel abroad

Unvaccinated public servants can be fired if they refuse virus tests — report

Under new Civil Service rules, ministry directors can reportedly decide whether Green Pass or negative test are mandatory, can take action against those who refuse

People wait in line to receive a coronavirus vaccine at a Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem on January 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People wait in line to receive a coronavirus vaccine at a Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem on January 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Civil Service Commission will now have the right to fire employees in the public service who refuse to vaccinate against COVID-19 or take a weekly PCR test, a report said Sunday.

Workers who refuse to show a so-called Green Pass proving they have been inoculated or recovered from the coronavirus, and who do not provide a negative test result, can be reassigned or laid off, according to new guidelines laid out by Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz, the Ynet news website reported.

Ministry directors and their deputies will have the authority to decide whether or not to ask for the documentation, based on the work environment and the danger of infection to workers and the public, the report said.

Authorities will also be permitted to reassign workers who refuse to comply or send them to work from home. However, those working from home will not fill standby positions or quick response roles, nor will they receive benefits for working overtime, among other ramifications, Ynet reported.

Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz in Jerusalem, December 24, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The rules, laid down by a Civil Service Commission committee in coordination with the Health Ministry, are aimed at “preventing morbidity and reducing its damage, ensuring the continued operation of government ministries,” the commission said in a statement.

Information about workers’ vaccination status and the results of virus tests will be protected in a similar way to all other medical records about public servants. They will have the right to appeal demands to provide the information, but if these are rejected they will be required to provide the data.

On Sunday, Israel lifted its longtime requirement to wear face masks in outdoor public places, as the Health Ministry reported that just 82 new people tested positive for the coronavirus the day before.

There were 2,540 active virus patients, of whom 206 were in serious condition. Since the start of the outbreak, 836,926 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Israel and 6,334 people have died.

The positive virus test rate for Saturday was 0.8%, slightly higher than it was last week, but less than half the level it was a month ago. The number of tests is always lower than normal on weekends, frequently affecting the positivity rate.

The virus’s basic reproduction number, which shows how many people each virus carrier infects on average and represents the situation ten days earlier, was given as 0.71, showing a continued slide since the beginning of the month. Any value below one shows the virus spread is shrinking while values over one show it is increasing.

Israel continued to lead the world in per capita vaccination rate, with 5,343,094 people having so far received the first shot, of whom 4,969,853 have also had the second to complete the process. Israel’s population is 9.29 million.

Israel’s coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash visits the coronavirus department at Ziv hospital in Safed, Northern Israel, December 24, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash expressed confidence that canceling the need to wear face masks outdoors in public would not lead to a rise in infections, but told Ynet that he was worried it may lead to complacency regarding other still-needed measures.

“I am worried that [people] will not be careful about masks inside buildings, that can cause infections,” he said. “We want to see people taking masks with them when they go into buildings or are using public transportation.”

He said there were no current talks about potentially removing the need for masks in closed spaces.

“We will need to follow up on the data on infections among those who are vaccinated in closed spaces. When we see those figures then perhaps we can take another look at it.”

Ash declined to put a timeframe on when that would happen, to avoid “creating baseless expectations.”

Regarding the detection of a new Indian variant of the virus in Israel, Ash noted that there are many strains of the virus and that health officials try to identify the variants that are significant.

Israeli women react to music playing at a bar as they celebrate Independence Day at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, after more than a year of coronavirus restrictions, April 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

“The significant ones are those that are more infectious or those that infect vaccinated people,” he explained. “Therefore, this Indian variant, which has a few aspects that could point to it being able to infect vaccinated people, is worrying to us. We still don’t know that. We will need to check into it and hear from the rest of the world.”

He said current efforts are aimed at preventing the variant from entering the country and identifying those who may have brought the strain back with them.

In general, he advised against traveling abroad.

“Moving around in airports can cause infections, and so I would advise those who must travel or those who can’t hold back to do so with caution,” he said. “I would put off nonessential journeys.”

After suffering a severe third wave of the pandemic, Israel’s situation has rapidly improved in recent months as it has carried out the world’s fastest per capita vaccination drive. Over half of the population is fully inoculated against COVID-19, and the results have been evident, with the number of daily new cases and serious cases dropping to levels not seen in months.

As the caseload has dropped, Israel has gradually rolled back coronavirus restrictions by opening businesses, event venues and other activities. Ash has said the entire economy will be able to fully reopen next month if there is no new rise in contagion.

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