Israel pulls back COVID mall outline, bracelets no longer to be required

7 more countries labeled ‘red,’ including UAE and Ireland * Gov't extends travel restrictions until Dec. 29

 People walk some with face masks at the Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem, October 13, 2021.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
People walk some with face masks at the Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem, October 13, 2021.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The Health Ministry decided Wednesday night that it will no longer move forward with requiring visitors to wear bracelets indicating whether they are vaccinated, marking a change to the restrictions that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz shared the day before.

The move came as seven more countries were added to the “red” list and the ministry warned that flu and COVID cases were rising.

On Tuesday, Bennett and Horowitz said that, starting this weekend, individuals would not be able to enter malls or other closed facilities without a Green Pass except to get essential items. People were supposed to be given bracelets to show their status, according to an announcement by the Prime Minister’s Office.

However, after negative feedback from store owners – including a threat by the mall owners to petition the High Court – a decision was made to backtrack. Now, the ministry is coming up with other suggestions for how to distinguish between protected and unprotected shoppers.

The malls will still have to make sure that people who do not have a Green Pass or a valid negative PCR test stay out of nonessential stores, meaning the Green Pass outline will still apply at malls. It is just unclear how it will be marked and enforced.

 Itamar, 5-years-old, receives his first coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination, after the country approved vaccinations for children aged 5-11, in Tel Aviv, Israel November 22, 2021.  (credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)
Itamar, 5-years-old, receives his first coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination, after the country approved vaccinations for children aged 5-11, in Tel Aviv, Israel November 22, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)

A ministry representative said the intention was never to require bracelets but for all the mall owners to oversee the new restrictions on their own to the best of their abilities.

The government voted on Wednesday to extend the country’s travel restrictions by another seven day, until December 29.

Also, the ministry recommended on Wednesday that the government declare Ireland, Norway, Spain, Finland, France, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates red states, meaning that Israelis would be banned from traveling to them. Anyone returning from a red country is required to be isolated for a minimum of seven days.

If passed, the recommendation would take effect on December 19.

These countries would be added to the existing list of red countries, which includes 50 African nations and the United Kingdom and Denmark.

The ministry shared its criteria for labeling countries red, which includes a country reporting that a minimum of 10% of its new cases are of the Omicron variant, or it being close geographically to a country that meets that criteria. In addition, if more than five out of every 10,000 returnees from a country test positive for the variant, that country could be labeled red.

As a result of the new criteria, several more countries could reportedly become red in the coming days, including the United States, Portugal, Turkey, Germany, Hungary, Morocco and Canada.

All other countries in the world are now “orange,” the ministry said, meaning the ministry does not recommend traveling at all. There are no longer any “yellow” countries.

The new rules come as Omicron threatens to spread across Israel and as the number of new daily cases is slowly increasing.

There are now close to 90 Omicron cases in Israel and at least 150 more people who are under suspicion of being infected with the variant.

In places like Britain, the variant is already well spread. The UK Health Security Agency said Wednesday that Omicron cases have gone up by 4,671 since the previous day, and there are now more than 10,000 cases in the country – an 87% increase in one day.

There were 695 new cases of the virus diagnosed on Tuesday, the ministry said Wednesday evening, but these are likely still mostly people carrying the Delta variant.

Serious cases are still on the decline. There were only 81 on Wednesday evening.

Among the new cases is an individual on Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s staff, who had accompanied him on a recent visit to the United States. Gantz entered isolation as a precaution, although the individual was not near the minister on the flight and tested negative before takeoff.

Gantz will stay in isolation until the results of the staff member’s genetic sequencing come back and it can be confirmed that the member is not carrying the Omicron variant.

The individual is considered to have a high probability of being infected with Omicron. If he does have the variant, Gantz will need to stay in isolation for a week and take another test.

Gantz tested negative both on arrival back in Israel and on day three of his isolation. He is not sick and will continue with his normal duties from home.

Bennett is also in isolation, after a sick person was discovered on his flight returning from the UAE. Both Bennett and Gantz went to the Knesset on Wednesday to vote. They sat together in a special isolation area.

SOME 5,233 children have been vaccinated in their schools since the start of the campaign on Sunday, according to the ministry.

The school vaccination campaign has been focused on children living in the periphery and especially on Arab youths, where vaccination numbers are lagging strikingly behind.

Earlier this week, the ministry confirmed that only around 1% of Arab children between the ages of five and 11 had been vaccinated, compared to around 14% in the general sector.

So far, only 0.06% of all youths have been inoculated – a much smaller percentage than health officials and the government had hoped for at the start of the campaign, which launched about three weeks ago.

The school vaccination campaign has proved highly successful so far, with more than 200 students being jabbed in some communities.

At the same time, Magen David Adom began conducting COVID-19 tests on Palestinians entering Israel from the Erez crossing. Testing takes place for five hours each day. The goal, here, too, is to stop the entry of the virus, and especially the Omicron variant, into Israel.

Flu cases have also been climbing, and on Wednesday the ministry put out a strong call to go and get a flu vaccine.

According to the Israel Center for Disease Control, some 565 hospitalized patients have been reported since the beginning of the season. That number is 265 more than the one reported last Friday.

Among the hospitalized, some 239 were in pediatric wards, and 39 were pregnant.