Israel’s death toll from the coronavirus passed 6,000 on Sunday, but Health Minister Yuli Edelstein vowed that in light of the “vaccination miracle,” there will be no further restrictions on Passover.
The bad news that 6,008 people have died came alongside good news that the infection rate in Israel continues to decline. The ministry also announced that starting next week, a rapid testing system will allow those who are neither vaccinated nor recovered to obtain a temporary green passport.
Under the current regulations, access to several venues, including cultural and sports events, gyms and indoor restaurants, is limited to those who received their second vaccine shot at least a week earlier, or who have recovered from the virus.
Children under 16 have therefore been effectively excluded from these services.
Thanks to the rapid testing system, this will change from next Sunday.
Bars and clubs are also going to be allowed to reopen under the green passport outline.
According to the statement, businesses will be able to order rapid testing kits from approved companies, while the Health and Finance ministries will monitor price levels.
During a press briefing, Coronavirus Commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash explained that the authorities are working on all details of the guidelines. For example, if someone tests positive, they will be required to take a regular coronavirus test.
Also on Sunday, the government discussed airport regulations as the High Court of Justice prepared to hear a petition demanding that the authorities allow all Israelis who wish to vote to return before the March 23 election.
The cabinet decided to expand the list of flight destinations to allow more citizens to return from abroad before the election. These will include Madrid, Amsterdam, Addis Ababa and Larnaca.
Health officials, however, opposed a proposal to raise the number of daily returnees.
While Transportation Minister Miri Regev said that she was ready to increase the cap from the current 3,000 to 4,000, Edelstein retorted that the only thing that could spoil the results achieved by Israel so far could be the variants coming in from abroad. Therefore, “we must not exceed the limit of 3,000,” he said.
ASKED WHEN Israeli families can expect to travel abroad again without the need for those who are not vaccinated to quarantine when they return, Ash said during the briefing that there is still a long way to go, because of variant fears.
Earlier in the morning, the health minister said that the election is the only reason the airport has reopened, explaining that the ministry opposed the move.
During an interview with 103 FM Radio, which is part of The Jerusalem Post Group, Edelstein expressed optimism.
“We have no reason to believe there will be a lockdown in Israel during Passover,” he pointed out. “We are seeing very encouraging data. We are experiencing the very miracle that we all dreamed of – the miracle of vaccines. More than five million good people went and got vaccinated and thanks to them, we now find ourselves where we are.”
“It is the first time that we are positively surprised by corona, and it feels good,” he said.
Israel has the world’s highest vaccination rate. More than 4.1 million, or 40% of the population, have received both shots and some 5.1 million people, more than half, have had at least one inoculation.
Ash also said that given the current numbers, Israelis will be able to celebrate Passover together, in a reasonable way. But he does not expect the limit of 20 people indoors to be increased.
Also on Sunday, the R rate, which measures the ability of the disease to spread, dropped below 0.8, the level that indicates that the pandemic is receding. The rate has been decreasing for several days, and it stood at 0.78.
Some 773 new cases of the novel coronavirus were reported on Saturday, with 2.9% of tests returning positive, according to an update by the Health Ministry.
While on Saturday, the number of tests performed is consistently much lower than on weekdays – some 27,000 compared to around 90,000 on previous days – Israel had not registered a day with fewer than 1,000 new cases since November. The percentage of tests returning a positive result was similar to previous days, when there were between 2,000 and 3,000 new cases.
Of those infected, 640 patients are in serious condition including 191 are on ventilators, in line with previous days. At the peak of the third wave around mid-January, some 1,200 patients were in serious condition.