COVID: Time for Israel to consider vaccine mandate – commissioner

The emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant has renewed debate about vaccine mandates and lockdowns.

 Health worker prepares a Covid-19 vaccine at a temporary Clalit health care center in Jerusalem, October 3, 2021.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Health worker prepares a Covid-19 vaccine at a temporary Clalit health care center in Jerusalem, October 3, 2021.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Israel should consider all options to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, including making the vaccine mandatory, Coronavirus Commissioner Prof. Salman Zarka said Wednesday.

“I think that what happened in Austria where a lockdown was imposed only on the unvaccinated was not right. It is a problematic slippery slope,” he said when asked about the topic in an interview on 103 FM Radio. “All alternatives need to be examined, including a vaccine mandate in the State of Israel.”

Zarka said that at the moment there is no process to examine the legal feasibility of the mandate, but the question should be checked.

In light of the threat posed by Omicron, he asked parents to vaccinate their children.

“The new variant is very worrisome,” Zarka noted. “Last week I said about the pediatric vaccine that we would provide all the material and information and the parents would talk to the pediatricians, think about it and make the decision that is right for them. Now I say: Dear parents, take all the steps but make a decision. If the variant spreads in the world, there is not much time. It is better to meet it when you are vaccinated.”

A passenger tries to find a flight as several airlines have stopped flying out of South Africa, amidst the spread of the new SARS-CoV-2 variant Omicron, at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, November 28, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/SUMAYA HISHAM)A passenger tries to find a flight as several airlines have stopped flying out of South Africa, amidst the spread of the new SARS-CoV-2 variant Omicron, at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, November 28, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/SUMAYA HISHAM)

As of Wednesday night, there were only two people in Israel confirmed as infected with Omicron, the Health Ministry said in a statement. One, who returned from Malawi, was vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine, and another was inoculated with three Pfizer shots.

There were also 17 cases of people suspected of having been exposed to the variant who were waiting for the result of the genetic sequencing of their tests, 10 of whom had recently traveled abroad. Of them, only three had been fully vaccinated.

Another 17 cases were under investigation but are considered to have been at low risk of having contracted Omicron.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer said two of its doctors had been found to be positive with the variant, but the ministry did not confirm this information.

According to a report by Channel 12, another two individuals got infected.

“I do not think we are in an emergency; we are in a concerning situation and we are taking all the fastest actions so that it does not become an emergency,” Public Health Services head Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis told the Hebrew website Ynet Wednesday.

Alroy-Preis also expressed skepticism over the idea of a vaccine mandate.

“The Health Ministry needs to do everything we can to make the vaccines accessible, to explain, to show the data,” she said. “I do not think vaccinations should be mandatory, but I assume that over time, things will continue to be weighed in all directions. I think we should not get to these places.”

Also on Wednesday, the Knesset Health Committee approved the two-week ban on foreign nationals entering the country and the requirement on vaccinated inbound travelers to quarantine for at least three days. In order to be released, those travelers can undergo a PCR test on the third day after landing in addition to the one taken upon arrival. If both come out negative, they are free to leave isolation.

Inbound passengers from countries under a travel ban – classified as red by the Health Ministry – are required to isolate in a coronavirus hotel until they receive results of their first PCR test and then will be able to continue the quarantine at home, provided that they authorize the police to track them by a special technology through their phones.

The system allows the police to send a link through a text; by clicking on it the individual shares their current location.

The police and the Internal Security Ministry said they were preparing to use the technology.

Channel 12 also said that if the first information about vaccine efficacy against the variant remains encouraging, the government will not extend the travel restrictions beyond two weeks – at least the general travel ban on tourists – and might even decide to cancel it in advance.

The general morbidity in the country remains moderate.

Some 571 new virus carriers were identified on Tuesday; a week earlier, there were 607. The total number of active cases on Wednesday stood at 5,700 – similar to the day before.

In addition, there were 115 patients in serious condition, the lowest since July.

Finally, the R rate, measuring how many people each virus carrier infects, slightly decreased on Tuesday, when it stood at 1.02.