Israel's Health Minister Moves to Ease COVID Restrictions, Reopen Gyms, Pools to Unvaccinated

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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A gym in Jerusalem
A gym in JerusalemCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced Sunday that he intends to ask the cabinet to ease coronavirus restrictions as Israel's infection rates continue to plummet.

Edelstein will ask the government to reopen gyms and swimming pools to people who have neither been vaccinated or recovered from the virus. Among other things, the plan also seeks to ease limits on gatherings and remove capacity restrictions in businesses that are operating under the "green pass" system.

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Edelstein seeks to implement these new regulations on Thursday.

Under the loosened restrictions, gatherings will be limited to 500 in the open air and 50 indoors, and the 75 percent capacity restrictions on public transport will be canceled. In addition, children and people who cannot be vaccinated will be able to participate in activities currently restricted to green pass holders by providing a negative coronavirus test.

"Thanks to the vaccines, Israel has reached the lowest infection rates it has seen sice the start of the pandemic, and this with most of the economy open. Under such circumstances we can further ease the restrictions for the public," Edelstein said.

A restaurant in Jerusalem in MarchCredit: Emil Salman

Edelstein emphasized that the restrictions at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport will remain in place, and that Israel will not be making it easier to enter the country, out of concerns surrounding new variants. 

Earlier on Sunday, the coronavirus czar, Nachman Ash, also praised the drop in infection rates and said that he will advance a series of provisions that will allow children to participate in activities currently limited to green pass holders, "in order to get them back to their routines too." Children under 16 are currently unable to receive the coronavirus vaccine, and because of that cannot participate in extracurricular activities, as Ash explained. Ash said that the plan is to allow children to participate in restricted activities by presenting a negative coronavirus test taken up to 72 hours beforehand. "Infection rates among children are dropping at the same rate as in the general population," Ash said, adding that "Children make up some 50 percent of the new cases every day" – a figure that has remained stable over the past two months.

Ash also spoke about easing restrictions on gatherings, saying that while he doesn't intend to completely cancel restrictions at this point, "It's heartening that there were big events on Independence Day and the infection rate is still dropping." He also said that the intention is to "continue operating with caution," and that the prevailing view is that the time has not yet come to completely do away with limits on gatherings.

The coronavirus czar also said that some 10 percent of Israel's new coronavirus infections occur in people returning from abroad. "We came out with a travel warning several days ago and we are weighing additional steps that we can take… however restricting entrance of new cases from abroad is a complicated process," Ash said.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash in NovemberCredit: Emil Salman

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