COVID cabinet approves new restrictions as cases soar

The cabinet decided that starting August 18th the Green Pass will apply to everyone over the age of three.

Israeli police officers guard at the entrance to a neighborhood in the northern Israeli city of Tiberias, June 24, 2020, during a closure on some neighborhood in the city following the spread of the Coronavirus.  (photo credit: BASEL AWIDAT/FLASH90)
Israeli police officers guard at the entrance to a neighborhood in the northern Israeli city of Tiberias, June 24, 2020, during a closure on some neighborhood in the city following the spread of the Coronavirus.
(photo credit: BASEL AWIDAT/FLASH90)
In an effort to curb an ever-climbing number of new corona cases – including serious cases hitting a new fourth-wave high of 400 – the corona cabinet met late Wednesday and passed a new set of restrictions.
“Without significant measures to slow the rate of infection,” a report by the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center said Wednesday morning, “there is expected to be a dangerous burden on the hospitals.”
The cabinet agreed to expand the Green Pass to all branches of the economy except malls and places of commerce. It will now also apply starting from age 3.
This means that people who are unvaccinated – by choice or because they do not qualify for the shots – will be required to present a negative COVID test before entering swimming pools, gyms, academic institutions, sports and culture events, conferences, museums, libraries, restaurants and hotels.
The tests for children up to 11 will be paid for by the state, whereas anyone 12 or older will be required to fund the screenings on their own.
Having to pay for the tests seems to have caused a surge in teens asking to get vaccinated. Both Maccabi Healthcare Services and Meuhedet Health Maintenance Organization told The Jerusalem Post that the number of 12-15 year olds that made appointments to get vaccinated this week was double what it was the week before.
The expanded Green Pass will take effect next Wednesday, August 18.
“In addition to the Green Pass that would apply in full, restrictions are also needed on massive gatherings to prevent mass infection,” Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said just before the cabinet meeting commenced.
As such, the cabinet voted to roll back out the Purple Ribbon program for malls and places of commerce according to occupancy: One person per seven square meters. The Purple Ribbon will not apply to stores that are less than 100 square meters.
The expanded Purple Ribbon program will be implemented beginning Monday, August 16.
Finally, the cabinet decided that there will be additional restrictions on gatherings.
In places with marked or fixed seating, entry of only 1,000 people shall be permitted in closed spaces and 5,000 in open spaces.
Events with marked or fixed seating can operate per the regular Green Pass outline and will not have limited on gathering. 
Smaller, private events, such as those in a person’s own home, should be capped at 50 people inside and 100 outside. 
The ministers also approved the plan to open up schools on September 1st.
The number of COVID cases does not seem to be declining.
On Wednesday morning, the Health Ministry reported 694 people were being treated in Israeli hospitals for the virus, among them 400 in serious condition, with 64% of those patients defined as serious cases being fully vaccinated, compared with 32% who were not. Another 2% were in the process of being vaccinated, and 2% were recovered.
There were another 5,755 people diagnosed with corona, according to the ministry, down from more than 6,000 on Tuesday, with 4.59% of those screened testing positive, a slight decrease from Tuesday’s 4.84%.
The death toll stood at 6,580. Since the beginning of August, more than 100 coronavirus patients have died, almost twice as many as in July and more than 10 times as many as in June.
Later, the Health Ministry updated the dashboard showing a total of 5,802 new cases from the day before and that serious patients had climbed to 405.
The cabinet met with the understanding that Green Pass and other similar restrictions would not effectively stop the spread of the Delta variant. As such, the prime minister announced before the meeting a last-minute plan to invest NIS 2.5 billion in the health system.
“We are preparing for a significant increase in the number of severe patients,” Bennett said at a news conference. “Our goal is to double the capacity of the healthcare system.”
He said that the Delta variant is “sweeping the world,” and that Israel is “waging a determined campaign to fight it – a campaign for health, but also for the economy. That is why we have decided to give a ‘booster’ to the health system.
“Every serious patient hurts us. Every family that loses someone due to coronavirus causes us pain. But every business owner who loses his world also hurts us.”
The money will be used to fund 770 new hospital beds, 800 new positions – doctors, nurses and paramedical staff – and 3,000 students who will be trained in the healthcare field.
In addition, geriatric hospitals will receive 1,000 new beds and 600 more positions.
Finally, another 1,400 beds will be added to the home hospitalization network in collaboration with the HMOs and with support from the IDF.
With these changes, the system is expected to be able to handle 2,400 serious patients – double the highest number managed by the hospitals during the third wave.
But Prof. Zion Hagay, head of the Israel Medical Association, said that the move was too little, too late, and that the health funds barely cover the already existing deficit in the Israeli health system. Moreover, he said it would be hard to train staff to fill so many roles in the final hour.
He also condemned the prime minister for equating the death of a loved one to losing one’s job.
“None of us should take human life lightly or compare personal injury to economic harm or property,” Hagay said. “Everyone who saves one soul, has saved a world.”
More than 650,000 citizens over age 60 or who are immunosuppressed have received a third shot of the vaccine. The government is hoping that the new restrictions will buy some time until the effects of the booster campaign can be seen.
Health officials are also discussing the possibility of giving a third shot to younger people, likely anyone aged 45 or older. One senior official from a health fund said that such a decision could even be made in the coming days. Some ministers and health experts were also pushing for such a move at the cabinet meeting.
Healthcare workers are also vying to get a booster, since they were inoculated at the start of the country’s campaign in December, and their antibodies are likely waning.
“We ask and hope that tomorrow we will receive a positive answer to vaccinate the health system workers with a full dose,” said Yitshak Kreiss, head of Sheba Medical Center.