Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is promoting new coronavirus restrictions designed to push the one million Israelis who have not received a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to get the booster shot.
On Thursday, Bennett expressed concern during two discussions with senior health officials that three million Israelis do not have valid Green Passes and therefore may get infected by the omicron variant.
He described the booster vaccination rate, which currently averages about 7,000 to 8,000 people a day, as "pathetic." Current assessments in Israel consider the booster to be effective in preventing infection, but it is still unclear how capable it is in preventing serious cases of the virus.
Israeli estimates have the spread of the omicron variant in African countries outpacing the rest of the world by two weeks.
On Thursday, Bennett spoke with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the U.K.'s loss of control over the spread of the omicron variant. The head of public health services, Dr Sharon Alroy-Preis, proposed declaring the entirety of Europe a "red" continent and the prime minister made it clear that he was considering the move.
Bennett intends to present by Sunday a dual-faceted plan to stop widespread omicron infection in Israel. The first aspect includes steps which will delay the disease's entry into Israel, and the second is to dramatically increase the number of daily vaccinations from 8,000 to 80,000. So far, public diplomacy campaigns have failed to inoculate the desired amount of citizens, so Bennett requested from the meeting's participants to provide new solutions that will incentivize those who have not received a booster shot to go get one.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and senior health officials were surprised by and critical of Bennett's request. "You can't pull out moves like that from your sleeve," Horowitz said angrily at the meeting which was supposed to be on extending travel restrictions to Israel by a week.
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During the meeting, Bennett proposed two radical moves. The first was to enforce a lockdown on citizens who do not have a valid Green Pass, as an experiment. Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri rejected the proposal outright.
The second initiative called to forbid the unvaccinated from leaving the country. Bennett said that he remembers how when flights were re-allowed after past lockdowns, it brought many citizens to get vaccinated, and he expressed hope that such a move now would do the same.
Sources present in the meeting said that Nizri did not reject the proposal outright but stressed that it is "a super problematic legal issue" that would require changing Health Ministry declarations that had been given to the Supreme Court. Senior officials believe this proposal will also be scratched.
Other ideas that will likely be implemented next week include a Green Pass requirement for entering malls, a move which is expected to incentivize youths to get vaccinated; and a dramatic operation for enforcing Green Pass checks at the entrances to bars, clubs and other venues in which Green Pass restrictions are not enforced ideally.