Israel Loosens COVID Restrictions Amid Decline in Deaths, Severe Cases

As key COVID indicators fall to lowest levels since August, which Health Minsitry director attributes to vaccinations, Israel begins relaxing some restrictions

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A restaurant in Tel Aviv.
A restaurant in Tel Aviv. Credit: Moti Milrod

The government lifted some of the country's coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, amid signs that the latest wave of infections is on a steady decline.

The Green Pass – Israel's proof of vaccination – will no longer be required at outdoor attractions. In addition, entering libraries and visiting museums will be allowed without the Green Pass. Starting October 11, the Green Pass will no longer be required at outdoor eateries and indoor swimming pools.

Israel reported its lowest numbers of COVID deaths and serious coronavirus cases in months on Wednesday, Health Ministry data showed.

The Health Ministry reported that 487 people are in serious condition on Wednesday, 236 of whom are in critical condition and 190 on ventilators. This is the lowest number of serious cases since mid-August. Unvaccinated Israelis, who account for about 15 percent of the population, make up 75 percent of serious COVID cases.

Serious COVID cases over the past month.Credit: Health Ministry

Israel's booster drive continues, and nearly 40,000 people received that shot on Tuesday. Earlier this week, Israel changed its regulations for the Green Pass vaccination certificate, limiting it to people who got their second dose less than six months ago or received their third dose. As a result, the number of people getting the shot spiked.

New COVID cases over the past month.Credit: Health Ministry

Old Green Passes extended due to technical glitches

The validity of the old Green Passes will be extended for the next two weeks, due to technical problems preventing the issuing of the new ones. The technical problems are preventing the implementation of the government’s COVID policies, including imposing the new criteria.

The new Green Passes were launched at the beginning of the week. The new criteria state that those who have either received the third dose of the vaccine, recovered from COVID in the last six months or recovered over six months ago but have received at least one dose of the vaccine are all eligible for the new green passport.

About 1.9 million Israelis were expected to lose their eligibility for the Green Pass on Sunday, but just a few hours after the new pass took effect, the Health Ministry’s app, used to issue the passports, crashed as a result of heavy traffic.

The Health Ministry said more work is required to ensure that those eligible for the pass can receive it, and to allow additional time for business owners and citizens to adjust to the new policy.

A number of the professional staff in the Health Ministry responded on Wednesday to the instructions of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to exempt students from isolation in green cities starting next week, recommending that the matter be examined over the next ten days before making a decision. A pilot period should be held for a few days initially, something that was not possible in September, said the officials.

“This step has no factual basis, it's a sort of gamble,” said an expert who is advising the Health Ministry. “Because of the booster and the hundreds of thousands of people infected, maybe it will succeed and the decrease in infections will continue, but maybe not. The main problem is that it’s not clear on what facts or assumptions Bennett is basing his policy.”

But other officials in the Health Ministry, as well as external experts, think Bennett’s request is tenable and can be implemented, especially in green towns. “The first pilot program in Israel may have included only three schools, but it was a success. It’s possible that the plan can be advanced, unless there are still logistical limitations,” said a senior official involved in the program.

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