Bennett: Aim is to keep Israel open, and it's still possible

With over 3,000 cases for 2nd day, PM says ‘we’ll know when to hit the brakes’

Health officials push to reintroduce Purple Badge limits on businesses; expert: If one million eligible don’t get vaccinated, Israel must choose between mass infection or lockdown

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L) at the opening of a vaccination center in Jerusalem, August 4, 2021 (Haim Zach / GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L) at the opening of a vaccination center in Jerusalem, August 4, 2021 (Haim Zach / GPO)

A day after ministers approved a raft of new restrictions and as new daily cases topped 3,000 for a second day in a row, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Wednesday that the government’s aim was to keep Israel as free of limitations as possible, but that it would know when to impose further restrictions.

“Our goal is to keep Israel open, and it is still possible,” Bennett said while inaugurating a vaccination center in Jerusalem, days after the country rolled out a program to administer third doses of the coronavirus vaccine to those over the age of 60.

“But we can’t get into a situation where the hospitals will one day have to say ‘We have no room, you can’t come in,'” the prime minister said. “We will know when we need to hit the brakes.”

Bennett called on unvaccinated members of the public to go and get inoculated.

“The public can take action and together we can avoid reaching the limits that we do not want to see in hospitals,” Bennett said.

“Israel took the brave step of becoming first in the world to give the third vaccine dose,” he said. “This was not an easy decision, but it was made by the professionals to avoid future difficulties.”

A coronavirus test center on the Israeli side of the Taba border crossing to Egypt, August 1, 2021 (Noam Revkin Fenton/FLASH90)

Bennett’s comments came as Health Ministry figures released Wednesday morning showed new coronavirus cases were continuing to surge, alongside increases in the number of patients in serious condition.

According to the data, 3,260 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed on Tuesday, with a further 1,302 since midnight.

There were 469 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, with 236 of them in serious condition, an increase of five since midnight. Forty-nine patients were on ventilators.

Almost 99,000 tests were performed Tuesday with a positive rate of 3.34 percent.

In addition to the 5.3 million people in Israel who have received both shots of the coronavirus vaccine, 182,444 have now been inoculated with a third dose.

A resident from the Amigor elder care facility receives a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine on August 4, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prof. Eran Segal, who advises the coronavirus cabinet, said Wednesday that with one million eligible people still unvaccinated, Israel was currently faced with two very stark options.

“Israel is on the way to a model of mass infection or a lockdown, and there will be a price to pay,” Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, told the Ynet news site.

The warnings came after the high-level coronavirus cabinet on Tuesday evening approved various new restrictions that will go into effect on Sunday, August 8, as the daily COVID-19 caseload surpassed 3,000 for the first time since March.

Ministers approved the extension of the Green Pass system to all gatherings from August 20 — not merely those with over 100 people, as is currently the case — and restricted access to public venues to unvaccinated children, unless they can present a negative virus test. This rule will also only go into effect on August 20 to allow time to set up a rapid testing system.

Under the new rules, which the ministers adopted on the advice of Health Ministry officials, masks are to be required outdoors for gatherings of 100 people or more and in-office work for public servants is to be scaled back to 50 percent, with the private sector encouraged to allow employees to work from home.

The government also plans to step up advocacy to encourage Israelis to stop “shaking hands, hugging, kissing, and avoid any gathering indoors that is not essential,” according to a government statement. It will also encourage those over 60 to avoid gatherings or be in the same room with the unvaccinated.

In addition, the government plans to further extend the list of destinations from which Israelis must self-isolate upon returning to Israel, regardless of their vaccination status, so that arrivals from most of the world will need to quarantine.

The Ynet news site reported Wednesday that health officials were pushing for a reintroduction of the “Purple Badge” system, which sets certain requirements on businesses to allow them to operate, including limits on the number of people allowed inside at any one time and regulations about social distancing.

The system would see a return to the familiar scenes of customers waiting in lines outside stores and businesses.

Jerusalem residents wearing a face mask shop at the Mamilla mall in Jerusalem on December 1, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The report said that the proposal was rejected at Tuesday evening’s cabinet meeting, but that health officials still believed it was necessary.

Additionally, the Health Ministry is advancing an effort to push off the start of the school year from September 1 amid concerns over rising coronavirus cases, Kan news reported.

The report said the aim of that proposed move was to delay a potential flare-up of cases when students return to classrooms, and noted that there are only a handful of school days next month anyway due to the High Holidays.

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