Israel Toughens COVID Restrictions as Delta Infections Rise

Israel sees a slight increase in serious COVID-19 cases over the weekend, with 63 people hospitalized, 17 of whom on ventilators

A healthcare worker tests a person for coronavirus at a temporary COVID-19 testing centre, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, earlier this month
A healthcare worker tests a person for coronavirus at a temporary COVID-19 testing centre, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, earlier this monthCredit: AMIR COHEN / REUTERS

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett issued on Sunday new restrictions in a bid to curb the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant as Israel sees a slight increase in serious cases over the weekend.

The new regulations were issued after the Public Security Ministry had presented Bennett with a new enforcement plan, while coronavirus cases in Israel continue to climb.

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According to the new restrictions, indictments will be filed against confirmed coronavirus patients who have violated quarantine.

In addition, police will now focus on enforcing COVID restrictions at events and celebrations, and particularly at weddings, as these gatherings have high potential for mass infections.

Bennett has also ordered Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to regulate the legal aspect of employing technological enforcement measures. The prime minister also seeks to make enforcement procedures more efficient, with an emphasis on issuing penalties.

"The objective is to enforce sensible regulations and implement aggressive enforcement against violators of the rules," Bennett said.

"Those who violate the regulations are endangering their own health and the health of all of Israel's citizens; we will not allow it. The delta variant is spreading all over the world. These regulations play a critical role in managing the coronavirus and beating this mutation," Bennett added.

Nachman Ash, director-general of the Health Ministry, said officials had not set any criteria for stricter measures, and that restrictions were being put in place in order to avoid another lockdown. Ash emphasized the importance of wearing masks indoors, something he said authorities were frequently seeing people fail to do. He also warned against non-essential international travel, saying that travel could bring new variants into the country. "We will continue to tighten the policy for monitoring flights in the coming weeks," he said. "We will examine how to expand our protection against the arrival of variants from abroad."

According to Health Ministry data, 463 Israelis tested positive for the virus on Saturday, with 59 people in serious condition, 16 of whom on ventilators.

Israel's daily COVID infections reached four figures for the first time since March, with 1,118 people diagnosed with COVID on Friday, with 855 diagnosed the day before.

The number of COVID-19 tests carried out on Saturday was 29,277; fewer than half the number of tests carried out on Friday, which stood at 69,091. However, the percentage of positive tests remained stable, with 1.47 percent of positive tests recorded on Saturday, and 1.58 percent of the tests returning positive on Friday.

Israel's coronavirus czar Nachman Ash told Channel 12 News on Saturday night that the Knesset is to vote on reinstating vaccine passports for event halls starting on Wednesday.

The Green Pass, recently renamed the "Happy Pass," was rolled out in February, and was no longer required in most public spaces by June. It allowed those who had received two jabs to access public spaces such as houses of worship, cultural events, fitness and dance studios, restaurants and bars, hotels, gyms and swimming pools. Ash said that for the time being, it will limit entry only to event halls rather than to all public spaces, and it seems the measure will pass in the Knesset.

As of Friday, all passengers arriving in Israel must quarantine for 24 hours or until they receive a negative COVID-19 test result. In addition, arrivals from the United Kingdom, Cyprus, Turkey, Georgia, Uganda, Myanmar, Fiji, Panama, Cambodia, Kenya and Liberia will be required to quarantine for seven days.

Moreover, Israel's Health Ministry issued a travel ban to Spain and Kyrgyzstan, which will come into effect next Friday, and added further countries to the list requiring a seven-day quarantine from next week. These countries include Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Namibia, Paraguay, Seychelles, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

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