Israel is set to impose restrictions on malls and indoor shopping early next week, after nixing at the eleventh hour a plan to require shoppers to present proof of vaccination against COVID.
The new regulations, announced Friday and backed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz,
would limit the number of people allowed in indoor shopping centers, but not require them to be vaccinated.
The original proposal was meant to go into effect on Friday, but the government walked it back following criticism by business owners and the public, as well as disagreements over it within the government.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry said on Friday it confirmed 45 new cases of omicron in the country, putting the total number of confirmed carriers of the highly infectious variant at 134.
The cabinet is expected to vote on the new regulations on Sunday. If approved, they would go into effect immediately.
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Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who is also alternate prime minister, Economy and Industry Minister Orna Barbivai and Yamina lawmaker Abir Kara – who was a vocal opponent of the plan to require vaccine proof – all back the new proposal.
Under these proposed regulations, malls will only be allowed to admit one customer per 15 square meters (160 square feet). They would also require malls to open for longer hours to account for the limited number of customers at a time, and would designate officials to monitor and enforce mask-wearing.
The Health Ministry will also set up vaccination stations in 50 main shopping centers to encourage inoculation, amid concern over the spreading omicron variant.
The cabinet will look into another proposal over the coming days, which would require COVID vaccine proof to entering stores larger than 100 square meters, instead of shopping malls.
Last week, Bennett expressed concern during two discussions with senior health officials that three million Israelis are not fully vaccinated and therefore may get infected by the omicron variant, and called the rate of vaccination with booster shots "pathetic."