The third coronavirus vaccine shot is available for anyone who has been fully inoculated for at least five months, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said Sunday. Two million Israelis have received the booster shot.
Those who have received the booster, or have recently been vaccinated, will be exempt from isolation when they arrive from abroad, it was announced Sunday during a press conference with Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash, coronavirus commissioner Salman Zarka and Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of the ministry’s Public Health Services.
“There is some improvement in morbidity, but it is too early to talk about the end of the fourth wave,” Horowitz said at the press conference.
“There is room for optimism, but we have no certainty that the slowdown will continue,” he said, adding that in spite of the difficult situation, “in close cooperation with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, we are maintaining a balanced and responsible approach. We value life above all, but do not forget that restrictions and closures have very severe consequences.”
Starting on October 1, only those who have received the second dose within the last six months, who have received a third booster shot, who have recovered within the last five months or who have recovered and received one shot will be eligible for the Green Pass, which grants access to several activities and venues, Zarka said.
“We are updating our definition of what it means to be vaccinated,” he said.
According to the data collected by the ministry, those who have received a booster are 10 times more protected from infection and serious symptoms compared with those who have had two doses, Alroy-Preis said.
Due to the new information, it was decided to update related policies, including travel restrictions.
Currently, all inbound travelers to Israel are required to quarantine for a minimum of seven days, unless they come from a very limited group of countries.
Under the new rules, which are set to come into effect on Friday, all those who are either vaccinated within the previous six months, or who were vaccinated earlier and received a booster, will be exempt from isolation if they return from all other countries, except those labeled as “red” – Brazil, Bulgaria, Mexico and Turkey.
“This is a very important message: We are not imposing restrictions for the sake of restrictions,” Horowitz said. “The moment we see that the efficacy of vaccination is very high, we can loosen the requirement of isolation for those who come from abroad.”
Over the past week, more than 100,000 shots were administered per day on weekdays, mostly boosters, but also first and second doses.
So far, some 5.95 million Israelis have received at least one shot, and 5.46 million have received at least two.
At last count, there were 726 coronavirus patients in serious condition on Sunday, the most since March. Last week, the number of coronavirus patients in serious condition fluctuated between 680 and 700.
Although the number of tests administered on Saturday is lower than on weekdays, about 100,000 instead of 150,000, the rate of people with a positive result was over 7%, marking a six-month record.
On Saturday, 7,071 people tested positive, and there are currently more than 80,000 active cases. During the peak of the third wave, there were 88,000 active cases.
Just three days before schools are set to reopen, about 34,000 of the active cases are schoolchildren, and another 90,000 people are in isolation after being exposed to a verified patient.
At the same time, the reproduction rate, or R number, which measures how many people each virus carrier infects on average, has declined to as low as 1.11. An R of more than 1 indicates that the disease is spreading, but at a slower pace than in the past weeks.
Meanwhile, hundreds of healthcare workers gathered in front of the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on Sunday to protest against a lack of funding.
Seven public hospitals, including Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center and Hadassah-University Medical Center, stopped receiving coronavirus patients last Monday and have been operating in emergency mode since Wednesday, only admitting patients in need of life-saving treatment, because of a prolonged financial crisis.
So-called public hospitals are independent organizations that rely mostly on donations, as opposed to facilities directly owned and funded by the state or the health funds.
The public hospitals said they have received only NIS 400 million of the NIS 630m. that was promised to them to cover expenses between January and June. An additional NIS 55m. per month that they were supposed to receive in July and August has also not been forthcoming.
Officials from the Health and Finance ministries said they have been monitoring the crisis closely and are committed to resolving it quickly, but so far have failed to deliver any solution.
During the press conference, Horowitz said all the money that has been promised will be transferred to the last shekel. He asked the hospitals to resume full activities while they work on a long-term solution.
The public hospitals, which also include Ma’aynei Hayeshua Medical Center in Bnei Brak, Laniado Medical Center in Netanya and three small hospitals in Nazareth, are all located in cities classified as red or orange by the Coronavirus Traffic Light System.
Maayan Hoffman contributed to this report.