The Israeli government voted on Wednesday to lift the state of emergency that has been in place since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, implementing instead a “special health situation” that will remain in place for three months.
The decision is in line with a new law passed by the Israeli parliament in January, which limits the government’s ability to impose pandemic-related restrictions. According to the law, the government can only impose severe restrictions under a state of emergency.
The law differentiates between two statuses: A “special health situation” and a “state of emergency.” The declaration of either is subject to approval by the Knesset's Constitution Law and Justice Committee, or a vote in the Knesset plenum within seven days of the decision. The new law protects the right to demonstrate in all cases, as opposed to the previous law, which made it possible to restrict protests under a state of emergency. The law, which will go into effect in February and will be in place until the end of the year, limits the timeframe for a state of emergency to 45 days, and a “special health situation to 90 days.
The law authorizes the government to declare a state of emergency, under which it may impose a lockdown, require schools to switch to remote learning and restrict travel out of the country. However, in keeping with agreements between the coalition and the opposition, participation in religious gatherings will be exempt from restrictions and people will be entitled to attend services, even under a lockdown.
A “special health situation” indicates a general return to routine, alongside efforts to manage the virus spread. If the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee does not approve the declaration of either status, all restrictions will be lifted after seven days.
The law also increases parliamentary supervision of the government. Under a “special health situation,” government regulations can only be applied with the approval of the Knesset committee and must be presented five days before they are to take effect. If a state of emergency is declared, government regulations can be implemented prior to Knesset approval. Under the new law, the Knesset has 48 hours to retroactively approve the regulations, as opposed to 24 hours under the previous law.
The cabinet is entitled to declare a “special health situation” if the ministers believe there is a real risk of the virus spreading. The cabinet can only declare a state of emergency if the ministers believe the virus has spread widely enough to pose a severe threat. In either case, the cabinet is required to seek the opinion of the health minister and Health Ministry experts before making a decision.
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The law also stipulates that a proof of vaccination will no longer be required to enter businesses that sell essential goods or to obtain essential services. A negative coronavirus test may be presented in lieu of proof of vaccination at all other venues.
Moreover, the law states that the government will be obligated to fund such tests for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.
The law also requires any changes in regulations relating to quarantine or mask-wearing to be approved by the Knesset's Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.
If a state of emergency is declared, the coronavirus cabinet will consist of at least seven ministers, including the health minister and the prime minister. The finance minister must be a member of the smaller ministerial committee that will be authorized to discuss changes in the regulations during a “special health situation.”