Daily COVID cases surge past 3,000; ministers to mull new restrictions

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The high-level coronavirus cabinet was set to convene on Tuesday to approve new restrictions, as the daily COVID-19 caseload surpassed 3,000 for the first time since March.

According to the Health Ministry, 3,161 new cases were diagnosed between midnight and 10 p.m. on Monday, with nearly three percent of tests returning positive a day earlier. The number of serious cases stood at 217, including 43 on ventilators.

Ministers were to discuss Health Ministry recommendations Tuesday to further restrict gatherings in an effort to contain the renewed COVID-19 outbreak, which has been blamed on the fast-spreading Delta variant.

Government ministers were also expected to consider expanding the list of countries from which travelers — including the vaccinated and recovered — must enter seven days of quarantine upon their arrival to Israel.

The so-called Green Pass was reinstated by the government on Thursday, with entry to events of more than 100 people — both indoors and outdoors —  allowed only to those who are vaccinated, recovered, or who present a negative COVID test. However, children under age 12 were largely exempt from the system. Ministers are now expected to drop this exemption for young children and apply the rules to gatherings of less than 100 people.

Women, one wearing a mask as a measure of protection against the coronavirus, stroll in Jerusalem, July 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash expressed concern Monday over the continued rise in coronavirus cases, saying that the government’s next step would be to “tighten” some of the existing regulations in place to battle the resurgent outbreak.

“The situation is worrying,” he said at a press briefing.

“The next steps will be tightening the Green Pass and additional options — as much as possible without harming the economy,” he said of the system that allows the vaccinated to attend public events, and calling on Israelis to adhere to the virus rules currently in place.

“We can’t become complacent,” he said.

Channel 12 news reported Monday that health officials were also pushing for masks to be made obligatory when in a crowd of more than 20 people, including outdoors.

According to the Ynet news site, the Health Ministry is planning to recommend that the government expand the list of “high risk” countries from which travelers to Israel are allowed entry but forced to quarantine for seven days.

Travelers stand in line to get coronavirus checks upon arriving at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, July 1, 2021. (Nati Shohat/ Flash90)

Currently, the list includes the UAE, Uganda, Seychelles, Guatemala, Honduras, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Liberia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Namibia, Fiji, Panama, Paraguay, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cambodia and Kenya. Additionally, there are 14 countries from which travel to Israel, even for fully vaccinated Israelis, is banned: UK, Spain, Turkey, Russia, India, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Cyprus.

A day after Israel officially began its campaign to administer third shots of the coronavirus vaccine to people over 60, Ash said Monday that 45,000 people have received the booster shots so far, urging anyone who has not yet been immunized to do so.

He added that he wasn’t aware of any “special side effects” among the elderly who received third shots.

An Israeli man is seen after receiving a third Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the Israeli city of Ramat HaSharon, on July 30, 2021. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told healthcare executives Friday that the government’s goal is to give booster shots to 1.5 million Israelis above the age of 60 in the next week.

In an interview Saturday with Channel 12, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz defended Israel’s decision to approve third vaccine shots for the elderly rather than wait for US regulators, as it did before beginning to use coronavirus vaccines last year.

“Any wait or delay in making the decision would cost lives. More people would develop serious morbidity or die,” he said.

Horowitz, who at 56 is too young to get a third dose, said his parents will get booster shots.

He was also asked about the prospect that the government will impose further restrictions to stem the rise in cases.

“My policy is a balanced policy,” he said, stressing his aim was to balance the fight against the virus with allowing Israelis to work and go to school. “I don’t want a lockdown and will refrain [from] a lockdown at all costs. There were terrible consequences.”

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