Bennett Declares 'COVID Wave Has Been Broken'; Israel to Lift Travel Restrictions

Meanwhile, Israel records 886 coronavirus patients in serious condition marking another decline from Wednesday's 927 ■ Israel to discuss lifting restrictions on foreign tourists on Thursday

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A restaurant in Jerusalem this week.
A restaurant in Jerusalem this week.Credit: Emil Salman

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett declared Thursday that the “[omicron] wave has been broken,” during a meeting with ministers and health officials over the future of Israel's coronavirus policy.

“We are seeing a steep decline in the number of serious patients,” Bennett announced. “We were the first country to close its gates to omicron, so it's time we gradually loosen them."

According to a statement from the Prime Minister's Office, the Green Pass, Israel's digital vaccination passport, is set to expire on March 1 and will not be extended. It may even be scrapped before that. The Green Pass limited entry to indoor venues and large gatherings to people who had recovered from coronavirus or received at least three doses of the vaccine.

The Prime Minister's cabinet of experts, headed by Prof. Ran Balitzer, convened Wednesday and recommended scrapping the Green Pass vaccine certificate only if the number of seriously ill patients continues to decrease and the BA.2 subvariant's morbidity trends remain stable.

The restrictions on foreign tourists will expire on March 7, and the government is set to discuss their future later on Thursday. On Wednesday, Bennett said he backs a plan to lift nearly all coronavirus restrictions by the beginning of March. The Health Ministry presented him with a plan to gradually lift restrictions.

The plan calls for cancelling the requirement for COVID testing prior to flying to Israel but retaining testing upon landing, as well as cancelling the quarantine requirement for unvaccinated Israelis upon their return from abroad.

Officials will also discuss coronavirus guidelines in schools and the requirement to wear masks indoors, but it has not yet been clarified whether a decision will be made to change the rules on these issues. Antigen tests will still be required before entering assisted living facilities for the elderly.

The meeting, which was cut short for Bennett to meet with visiting U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was attended by Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash, as well as other ministers, security and military officials.

Although new infections remain high, Israel’s Health Ministry has reported a steady decline in serious cases of COVID-19 since the peak of the country’s omicron wave earlier in February.

The Health Ministry reported that there were 21,152 new cases on Wednesday. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, 9,710 people have died of the disease.

On Thursday, Israel recorded 886 coronavirus patients in serious condition, marking another decline from Wednesday's 927. Out of the patients in serious condition, 322 are in critical condition and 263 are on ventilators.

According to Health Ministry data published on Wednesday, serious coronavirus cases have fallen by 24 percent in one week, as the omicron wave continues to taper off. This is also reflected in the so-called R number, which is the number of people whom the average infected person infects. Anything under 1 indicates a decline in new cases and the R number is now down to 0.68.

Earlier this month, Israel decided to scrap the Green Pass vaccination certificate for most places of entertainment after experts deemed them increasingly ineffective during the omicron wave.

“From my standpoint, we need to prepare to release the restrictions soon – an open economy and an open education system – without reaching a lack of capacity. That’s the proper balance,” Bennett said.

“We are preparing for the next wave,” he added. “I want us to learn lessons where necessary from how we managed the current wave, and we will be more prepared for future scenarios.”

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