Israel will begin electronic monitoring of people entering the country who are obliged to quarantine, after the cabinet approved the move on Sunday.
While the cabinet approved use of "electronic measures," the government does not plan to use tracking bracelets, but rather to encourage the use of a smartphone app.
According to the proposal by the Health and Public Security Ministries that was approved by the cabinet, anyone returning from abroad and required to self-isolate will need to use the designated app to send a one-time update to the authorities on their location, after which the state will monitor them. The state made use of this app during previous COVID outbreaks.
Those who prefer not to send their address and location through the app will have their location verified by the police.
Another proposal that will be offered within about a week have the self-isolating traveler send a selfie with an ID card, with the state verifying their location. Currently, arrivals must submit the address where they will be quarantining in Israel upon arrival.
The director general of the Health Ministry, Prof. Nachman Ash, said Sunday that despite a jump in both the number of coronavirus patients who are hospitalized and those in serious condition, there hasn't been an increase in the number of patients on ventilators or on ECMO heart-lung machines.
"It could be that it's a result of protection from the vaccines, but it's a little too early to say that," Ash told a news conference. "We need to see in the coming days whether the numbers remain low. If so, that would testify to the protection from the vaccines. We are monitoring the data."
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In comments about the Education Ministry's plan unveiled on Sunday for the opening of the school year, Ash said that the plan had several points that needed to be clarified. "We will continue this process to achieve a configuration that will ensure the health of our children in the education system and that in addition will enable studies to proceed as uninterruptedly as possible," he said.
Also Sunday, Ash said that even though the vaccines have kept the number of serious cases from rising as quickly, "the rate of serious illness is significant…we're already nearing 100 seriously ill patients, and these are certainly numbers that are beginning to worry us." Ash said that if that number reaches the hundreds, "let's say at around 400, it will be very, very worrying."
Ministry figures released Sunday morning show that the number of coronavirus patients in serious condition has reached 97. There are 22 patients in critical condition, and 17 patients on ventilators.
Israel recorded 966 new COVID diagnoses on Saturday, which coronavirus czar Ash said on Sunday is a comparatively high number for Shabbat. "In comparison, last Saturday had 430 – thus the trend of increased infection continues," Ash said in an interview with Army Radio.
Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the Health Ministry’s head of public health services, said in an interview with Kan Bet radio on Sunday morning that thanks to Israel's high vaccination rate, there is a wide gap between new coronavirus cases and serious cases. Despite this, she said, the number of serious cases has multiplied by four.
"The number of seriously ill patients will increase if we do not take steps to reduce the infection rate. We see an increase in the number of diagnoses every day, and there is also an increase in the percentage of tests that come back positive," she said. Despite this, she added, "We're in a different place now than we were in March 2020, and that's thanks to vaccines."
Last week, the government reinstated vaccine passports for events of over 100 people in closed venues. When asked on Sunday whether those new requirements would suffice, Ash said that he hopes it will lower the rate of infection, but that the situation would need to be monitored to see whether additional steps must be taken.
Both Ash and Alroy-Preis said that there may be a need for a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and that the ministry is looking into it.
On Thursday, the Health Ministry said that the effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in preventing infection and mild symptoms has dropped to 40 percent, according to data collected over the past month as the delta variant spreads in Israel.
Notably, the data might be skewed because a significant portion of the coronavirus tests in Israel were conducted in hot spots and among the elderly, while a small number of tests was carried out among the young and vaccinated population.
One medical expert who is consulting the Health Ministry said that the data is still too distorted to make a reliable assessment of the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing infection and mild symptoms.
The effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing hospitalizations and severe symptoms stands at 88 percent and 91 percent, respectively, the ministry said.
Israeli authorities are also warning citizens to refrain from unnecessary travel abroad.
The countries to which Israelis are currently not allowed to fly are Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Spain, and Uzbekistan. Several other countries are on a list of countries that require a mandatory one-week quarantine upon return, including the United Kingdom and Turkey.