Virus experts urge vigilance: Bring back Green Pass now, maybe more rules soon

As cabinet decides against fresh restrictions, research group says government should start once again barring the unvaccinated from some venues, but no need for panic yet

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

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 government should bring back the Green Pass and consider reintroducing some other recently scrapped virus restrictions to fight the new rise in COVID cases, according to an influential expert panel.

“Israel should seriously consider reintroducing the Green Pass and perhaps also the Purple Badge,” said Prof. Nadav Katz, coronavirus statistician in a Hebrew University research panel that advises the government.

The Green Pass was a certificate issued to vaccinated and recovered individuals giving them access to certain venues that others could not enter. The Purple Badge was a list of requirements businesses needed to meet in order to be allowed to operate. Both were scrapped at the start of June as virus infections petered out.

The contagion is now once again on the rise amid the spread of the Delta variant. Still, the government decided on Sunday against new restrictions on the public.

Katz’s modeling suggests that the highly-transmissible Delta variant that originated in India currently accounts for close to half of Israeli COVID cases and will be dominant in the country by the end of the week. But he urged people “not to panic,” especially as research suggests that vaccines are highly effective against the Delta variant.

With the number of new daily cases at around 100, Israelis are once again wearing masks inside, and on Monday there will be a major tightening of rules governing entry to Israel. But aside from these two changes, leaders are desperately trying to keep life in Israel restriction-free. They are aiming at strengthening immunity without expanding rules, by urging 12- to 15-year-olds, newly eligible for vaccines, to take shots.

An Israeli teenager received a coronavirus vaccine in Jerusalem, on June 24, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appealed to young teens on Sunday, saying they should vaccinate in order to avert restrictions, and declared: “We do not want to impose any limits — not on parties, or trips or on anything.”

But Katz’s research group, composed of experts in health and statistics, released a report on Sunday stating that “in many cities significant infection is evident,” and arguing in favor of restrictions.

On Saturday, 97 cases were identified in 37 different locales, and another 18 cases were identified among travelers who had arrived from abroad. Katz said that by the end of this week, it will be clear whether the new cases are causing an uptick in morbidity, and if they are, authorities should restrict gatherings.

“We’ll know in the next few days whether the rise in numbers is more a reflection of increased testing, or whether we’re seeing an actual outbreak,” he told The Times of Israel, saying this will be evident from how many cases filter to hospitals.

“There is always a week or 10 days before an increase in cases prompts an increase in hospitalized patients, so what we want to see is whether the gradient of the numbers becoming hospitalized gets steeper by the end of this week,” said Katz.

Hospital team members wearing safety gear as they worked in the Coronavirus ward of Ziv Medical Center in the northern Israeli city of Tzfat on February 04, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

There are currently 1,186 COVID-positive Israelis, five times the number in mid-June.  But the number of hospitalized patients has stayed low, and is currently 44, with, 23 in serious condition.

Katz said: “The situation is much better than in the past, as a large part of the susceptible population has been vaccinated. We’re not in the same situation as we’re seeing in other countries where hospitals could be at risk of being overwhelmed.”

The fact that significant numbers of those testing COVID-positive are vaccinated should not unsettle people or lead them to conclude that the Delta variant defies vaccines, Katz argued.

While one is highly unlikely to catch COVID-19 if inoculated, it still happens, and with so many Israelis vaccinated, it’s inevitable that a large proportion of those infected will be vaccinated, he said.

Israel is using the Pfizer vaccine which has been found to be over 95% effective. And those who were infected after vaccination largely had none or mild symptoms.

“If theoretically 100% of Israelis were vaccinated then 100% of cases would be among the vaccinated, but this doesn’t highlight a problem with the vaccine,” said Katz.


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