Israel will abolish its restrictions on outdoor gatherings, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz announced Tuesday. The country hit a milestone of four million people inoculated with a booster shot and prepared to approve vaccinations for five- to 11-year-olds.
The new regulations, which were set to be approved by the coronavirus cabinet later on Tuesday, will cancel the cap on outdoor gatherings, the requirement to wear a mask in places with more than 100 people and allow cultural, sports and religious events with up to 1,000 participants to take place without requiring a Green Pass.
In addition, such indoor events will also be allowed outside the Green Pass framework.
Moreover, event halls will be authorized to host up to 600 guests indoors (currently the limit is 400) and an unlimited number of guests outdoors under the Green Pass outline.
The new rules are expected to come into effect on Thursday. Wearing a mask inside will remain mandatory.
“The Delta wave is declining, and the data show this very clearly,” Horowitz said during a press conference with the Health Ministry’s head of Public Health Services, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, and coronavirus commissioner Prof. Salman Zarka.
The officials presented the new rules and said if morbidity continues to decline, more restrictions regarding indoor spaces could be lifted. Nevertheless, they made clear that some measures would remain in place for the foreseeable future.
“We consider the decline of this wave as a form of respite,” Horowitz said. “We are assuming that another wave may come and possibly a further one after the next; look at what’s going on in the world. That is why we need to be prepared [for all scenarios]. The Green Pass and masks will continue to accompany us.”
Alroy-Preis said the ministry was looking into possibly abolishing the requirement of the Green Pass for gyms and canceling other restrictions on gatherings indoors for the next phase.
As of Tuesday, Israel had 6,200 active cases, down from more than 80,000 at the peak of the fourth wave, the Health Ministry reported. There were 161 patients in serious condition, compared with 440 a month ago. The average number of daily cases recorded, calculated on a weekly basis, has declined to 516 from more than 2,100 at the beginning of October.
The ability to leave the fourth wave behind without imposing a lockdown was largely credited to Israel’s successful inoculation drive, including the booster campaign over the past few months. The four millionth person received a booster shot Tuesday night.
Many health officials and experts also believe inoculating the five-11 age group – more than 1.2 million children – will significantly contribute to keeping the pandemic at bay.
The Pfizer vaccine was authorized for this age group by the US Food and Drug Administration last week.
The Pandemic Response Team and the Advisory Committee on Vaccines are scheduled to meet on Wednesday and are expected to approve the vaccination.
The session that took place last Thursday was live-streamed. But this time, since public discourse around the issue has turned increasingly violent, the debate will be held behind closed doors to allow the participants to express themselves freely.
“Some experts do not want to be exposed,” Horowitz said. “They are not elected officials. They are exposed to threats and slander, and they do not want it. I respect their request.”
“The data discussed have been presented to the public in a transparent manner, and any decision will be fully explained,” he added.
The beginning of the campaign will likely take a few more days as the special Pfizer vaccines required for children, which are slightly different from those for adults in terms of dosages and storage vials, have not arrived yet.
Once the drive starts, there won’t be problems of supply or accessibility, Zarka said.