Health Ministry Toughens COVID ‘Traffic Light’ Plan Aimed at Curbing Infections

The changes come as health officials warn that Israel is headed toward a third coronavirus wave

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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The Seven Stars mall in Herzliya, which reopened early after a second coronavirus lockdown as part of a pilot scheme, pictured here in October 2009.
The Seven Stars mall in Herzliya, which reopened early after a second coronavirus lockdown as part of a pilot scheme, pictured here in October 2009.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

The Health Ministry on Wednesday said it tightened criteria for its “traffic light” plan, classifying cities according to COVID-19 infection rates, in an attempt to prevent another coronavirus outbreak.

The changes, going into effect on Wednesday, see eight more cities turning from “orange” to “red.”

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Among the stricter criteria for the four different levels, green, yellow, orange and red, is the use of local restrictions to avoid another nation-wide lockdown, said the Health Ministry.

The coronavirus cabinet approved the changes, and also decided that grades 10 through 12 in green and yellow cities will attend classes in person starting Wednesday.

The ministry also changed the minimum number of points on its scale needed to move between each level and color. The score for every city is based on the rate of new infections, the percentage of positive coronavirus tests and the rate of doubling of the number of patients.

A city is now declared red if it has a score between 7 and 10, instead of 7.5 under the previous rules. Scores from 5.5 to 7 points – instead of 6 to 7.5 – will now turn orange; and cities with 4 to 5.5 points instead of 4.5 to 6 will turn yellow. Green cities are declared with scores of 4 points or less.

The changes have resulted in the number of red cities rising from 16 to 24. Those added include Kalansua, Beit Jann, Arara, Daliat al-Carmel, Hurfeish, Ma’aleh Iron, Isfiya and Kfar Metzer.

A drive-through coronavirus test center in the Arab Israeli town of Tira.Credit: Eyal Toueg

The number of orange cities increased from 27 to 32. Forty-three percent of COVID-19 cases in Israel are in those cities following the changes, up from 36.9 percent.

Three cities were added to the list of yellow cities, which now stands at 52 and counts for 32.7 percent of all COVID-19 cases.

The changes will also make it harder for cities to move down the list and will now have to spend a longer period under the different local restrictions. The vast majority of red and orange towns are Arab cities, where the infection rate is now 1.16 – the number of people each patient with COVID infects on average.

Last week, Haaretz reported that 45 percent of those patients live in Arab towns. The Arab emergency committee said that based on Health Ministry figures, that COVID-19 testing is very low compared to the general population, standing at 12 percent as of last week.

On Tuesday, 1,281 people were infected with coronavirus. The total number of tests stood at 64,071 and the rate of positive tests was 1.9 percent.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the head of the Health Ministry’s public health services, said on Tuesday that Israel is at the beginning of a third wave of infection, with 90 towns showing signs of higher infection rates.

Coronavirus commissioner, Prof. Nahman Asch, commented on the growing spread of the disease on Tuesday, saying “We are in an emergency situation. There is an increase in infection along with a feeling among the public that coronavirus is gone.”

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