Amid an increase in Omicron cases and a report by Hebrew University researchers saying that Israel has entered its fifth wave, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett convened a meeting of all coalition faction leaders on Motzei Shabbos to discuss implementing additional COVID restrictions.
A decision was made to expand the list of red countries, where Israelis are forbidden to travel. According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, the list, which now includes 50 countries, will be reviewed on a daily basis and updated frequently, with more countries to be added to the list in the coming days.
Bennett also instructed officials to begin preparations for the implementation of the Green Pass system in malls, which would mean that the unvaccinated would only be permitted to enter mall stores that are deemed essential, such as pharmacies and computer stores.
Bennett has pushed the implementation of extreme measures against COVID, such as a lockdown only for the unvaccinated and a general vaccine mandate, but his ideas were knocked down by senior members of his government.
“We’re in better shape than other countries because we took quick and decisive steps, but we can’t let our guard down now,” Bennett said at the meeting, in defense of his decision to quickly close the borders as soon as the first Omicron case was found in Israel. “They say it’s exaggerated? I call it responsibility. The more we protect Israel from the entry of the Omicron, the more we can keep the economy open and allow the continuation of day-to-day life,” he asserted, adding that he is determined to act against the spread of the Omicron without the imposition of a general lockdown.
Beginning on Sunday morning, Israel Police began stepping up enforcement of coronavirus restrictions, with an emphasis on Green Pass regulations.
Hebrew University researchers presented a report to the government late last week warning that “the fifth wave has begun in Israel and that the spread of the Omicron must be delayed as long as possible” in order to prepare for its arrival.
The report states that the increase in cases in recent days is significant and cases are increasing across all sectors and age groups. The researchers aren’t certain about the root cause of the current outbreak, listing a number of possible causes such as a decrease in the general population’s immunity level, an increase in infections in young families – among whom immunity levels are the lowest – or an increase of cases in schools.
In light of the outbreak, the researchers recommended thwarting the spread of the Omicron by continuing the current policy of restricted entry into Israel by foreign nationals. “The time we will gain will enable us to collect data on the need for a fourth vaccine dose or an Omicron-adapted vaccine,” they wrote.
The researchers urged the government to immediately take measures to decrease the infection rate so that hospitals won’t become overloaded in the case of an Omicron-spurred outbreak. Some of the measures they suggested are increased enforcement of the Green Pass and mask-wearing and a revaluation of the policy regarding infections in schools.
There are 55 people in Israel who tested positive for the Omicron variant as of Motzei Shabbos, an increase of 20 cases since Friday.
There are currently 5,778 active coronavirus patients in Israel, with 100 severely ill patients of whom 50 are ventilated. There have been 8,210 fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)