Israel's Attorney General Gives Nod to Sanctions on Unvaccinated Against COVID

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz are weighing bringing a few restrictions on unvaccinated to the cabinet, as omicron drives a fifth wave in Israel

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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit last month.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit last month.Credit: Fadi Amoon
Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has approved the imposition of government restrictions on unvaccinated people in an effort to encourage them to get the jab, regardless of whether those restrictions are demonstrably epidemiologically effective.

In view of the attorney general’s legal brief, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz are weighing bringing a few proposals to the cabinet, designed to bolster restrictions on unvaccinated people.

Until now, the attorney general has prevented the government implementing policies whose sole intention is to encourage vaccination regardless of whether it is epidemiologically justified. The prohibition included both the awarding of benefits to those who do get the vaccine and the imposing of restrictions on people refusing to get vaccinated.

Before any decision on augmenting restrictions, representatives of the attorney general generally request an expert opinion from the Health Ministry regarding the policy's epidemiological efficacy. Policies would be implemented only after such an opinion was received. These opinions have been used by the state in responding to the numerous petitions objecting to various coronavirus-related restrictions that have been submitted to the High Court of Justice.

With the rapid spread of the omicron variant, the attorney general's has shifted his position. The reversal came during a cabinet debate on a proposal that would restrict entry to malls to fully vaccinated people, while prohibiting entry to unvaccinated people, even when they present negative COVID-19 test results. Several proposals came up during the discussion, including rewarding vaccinated people through a financial bonus or giving coupons to parents who vaccinate their children.

Deputy Attorney General Ram Nizri agreed in principle to allow the government to take action against unvaccinated people, restricting them even without a formal justification. According to Nizri, if the cabinet approved such measures, the Health Ministry would need to write a memorandum stating that even though such a move lacked a direct epidemiological rationale, it was necessary due to its anticipated effectiveness in raising the number of vaccinated people.

It remains unclear if such a policy change will hold up to the High Court of Justice's scrutiny, but the attorney general would be willing to defend 

The cabinet will be able to get legal approval for taking steps to restrict the unvaccinated in non-essential commercial and leisure venues, but sources stress that it will not be able to impose a complete lockdown on them. Moreover, there will be no limits on financial benefits the government will be able to give people who have been vaccinated.

Mendelblit's change of policy follows similar moves around the world, as governments buckling under the pressure of the new variant have notched up their efforts to incentivize people to get vaccinated, most recently across Europe.

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