Israel Drops Outdoor Crowd Limits as COVID Recedes

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People at a concert at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, this month.
People at a concert at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, this month. Credit: Moti Milrod

Israel decided Wednesday to drop its restrictions on outdoor gatherings as the country's fourth coronavirus wave seems to have subsided.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz decided to revoke the restriction, which until now limited outdoor gatherings to 5,000 people.

People attending outdoor events, however, will still have to present their Green Pass – Israel's proof of vaccination – to gain entry. The decision will be brought for the approval of the ministerial COVID committee and will come into effect on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Bennett is holding a discussion with senior health officials regarding the vaccination of children aged five to 11 in Israel, after an expert panel voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to recommend the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus jab.

The vaccine could be available to that age group as soon as next week. The FDA is not obligated to follow the advice of its outside experts, but it usually does.

If the FDA authorizes the shots for children, an advisory panel to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet next week to make a recommendation on the administration of the vaccine. The CDC director will make the final call.

If vaccinations for younger children are approved in the United States, and then in Israel, about 1 million more Israelis could potentially be vaccinated – about 11 percent of the population.

At the end of May, the vaccine was approved for children aged 12 to 15 in the United States. Israel was seeing a lull in infections at the time and approved the vaccine for this age group only three weeks later, when the delta variant led to another wave of infections.

One of the reasons for the delay in Israel was the appearance of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, as a side effect among some people under 30 who had been vaccinated – mostly males – which required examination.

Since then, it has been found that myocarditis is extremely rare: according to the Health Ministry, there were 12 cases of the disease out of 256,000 people aged 12-15 who received two doses of the vaccine. Most of these cases were mild and did not require hospitalization. Despite the data showing the side effect is rare, the fear of myocarditis became a major argument among parents who did not want their children to be vaccinated.

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