So much for leading the world out of the pandemic as former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had boasted during the campaign this spring.
Israel – which had enjoyed a massive reduction in coronavirus cases from thousands of active cases during its heyday to single digits – is going backwards into restrictions, masks and potentially even a fourth lockdown over the upcoming fall holidays.
Despite a sweeping vaccination campaign that has seen so far 70% of the entire population vaccinated and had seemingly stamped out the virus, a recent surge in positive tests has spooked the Ministry of Health and government officials as Israel registered over 750 cases for the second day in a row.
In the past week, the Coronavirus Cabinet has considered a plethora of recommendations from health officials including reintroducing the green passport – which it has not yet – to reducing the number of days in quarantine and increasing fines for breaking quarantine and failing to wear masks indoors, which is required across the nation.
On Thursday, the Cabinet approved a new vaccine passport – the “happy pass” – which will be put into effect at events such as weddings and bar mitzvahs with 100 people or more required proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID or a negative test.
Masks would still be required at all times during the event, but under the plan, the number of people allowed to enter will not be limited.
The Ministry of Health said the pass, which goes into effect on Wednesday, doesn’t go far enough but should be applied to restaurants and concerts, theaters and plays as well.
Meanwhile, Spain and Cyprus are about to be added to the list of “red” countries banned by Israeli for its citizens to travel to due to the high number of COVID cases with an eye on Turkey as well as case continue to rise there.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett recommended that Israelis stay in Israel this summer.
“Soon the whole world will become ‘red,’ and your trip will be canceled anyway, so don’t even order,” he said.
Nachman Ash, the new director general of the Health Ministry, told Channel 13 News tonight that he is concerned Israel is heading for its own lockdown – a fourth – for the High Holidays which begin in September.
“I think that it could be that we’ll get to the point where we’ll say ‘we need a lockdown,'” Ash said. “I’m worried we might get there… in a few weeks, it’s possible we’ll get there.”
Optimistically, Bennett on Wednesday said that Israel can beat the Delta variant in five weeks if the public is compliant.
“In this new wave of the Delta mutation, we want to give a chance to a new path, that of trusting in you the public, that of cooperation and mobilizing the public, to show you things as they are and to try and beat the coronavirus without lockdowns,” he said. “But this depends on you, the public.”
He also told people not to shake hands or greet each other with kisses and hugs.
“Vaccines alone won’t stop the spread,” Bennett said. “Within five weeks we can finish this business.”
In any case the Health Ministry is working on setting up rapid tests around the country which will be at the expense of the user.
“It might be that very soon people who can get vaccinated and have chosen not to will not be able to access certain venues without a negative corona test,” Bennett warned.
On that note, he directed his comments directly to young people imploring them to get injected or face another dismal school year online.
“Lastly, dear young people, let us make an agreement: You will go and get vaccinated. There are over 300,000 young people who can get vaccinated but have not been vaccinated,” he said. “Go, make an appointment to get vaccinated, wear masks and watch yourselves and we, for our part, will do everything so that the coming school year does not look like its predecessors. This was an awful year and we really want to do everything because the easiest thing to do would be to let you wither away on Zoom.”
Bennett was speaking to the 300,000 Israelis between the ages of 12-15 and the 100,000 16-19-year-olds that have not yet been vaccinated, according to Health Ministry data. This as Israel begins rolling out vaccine for untested 11 and under group.
He also said that, “It is possible that unvaccinated people will not be able to enter places without a negative test result.”
The number of seriously ill patients had risen to 53 and of 62,202 tests performed Tuesday, 1.38% came back positive.
As for tourism, no decision has been made about reopening the borders to vaccinated tourists from Aug. 1, and non-vaccinated tourists have no chance of getting into the country at this point. Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov proposed easing entry for vaccinated travelers.
Under his proposal, those vaccinated with vaccines approved for Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA will undergo PCR tests upon entry while those who received a vaccine not approved by Israel’s Ministry of Health will undergo serological testing, though
Razvozov admitted that rapid serological testing does not yet exist.
The travel industry – closed completely since March 2020 – has been decimated and has only recently reopened in an extremely limited capacity. And with threats to lockdown the country again in the fall, hopes are fading for any quick return for the sector.
“It should be clear to all that any postponement of the due date will require compensation for the disabled tourism industry,” Razvozov said.
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS