Israel tightened on Monday its regulations on public access to shopping and commercial centers and updated its guidelines on COVID booster shots, as the highly infectious omicron variant continues to spread in the country.
The Health Ministry told hospitals and health care providers to start offering a third shot of the coronavirus vaccines three months after the second shot – down from a five-month wait. The ministry said the decision was based on a "steep rise" in infections in Israel and around the world.
The new guidelines, which aim to "boost inoculation... as quickly as possible," apply to Pfizer's, Moderna's and AstraZeneca's vaccines.
Monday's decision also lets those who recovered from COVID get a booster shot three months after their latest shot.
Under the new restrictions that went into effect on Monday, customers and employees must present proof of vaccination known as the Green Pass before entering stores larger than 100 square meters (1,000 square feet) – including malls and commercial centers, both indoor and outdoor.
Malls will now abide by Purple Badge regulations, a set of rules that encourage social distancing. In malls, one person is allowed entry for every 15 square meters. In addition, food stalls will only serve customers with Green Passes and in-mall seating will not be allowed.
Commercial spaces that provide essential services will not be subject to Green Pass restrictions, but will abide by social distancing rules that allow one person per seven square meters.
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Green Pass restrictions will remain in effect for nine days.
Israel recorded 1,760 new coronavirus cases on Monday, also logging 87 active serious cases. The number marks a slight decline from Sunday's figure, which stood at 96. However, the number of new seriously ill patients has been steadily climbing over the past five days.
The R number, which marks the average number of people a carrier of the virus infects, has been on the rise throughout December. On Monday, the figure remained at 1.41, after hitting a three-month peak on Sunday. The figure reflects Health Ministry data up to 10 days prior.
Meanwhile, ten of thousands of students will study remotely in so-called red communities with high infection rates. As of Monday, 26 cities and communities in Israel are classified as red and orange.
The Knesset's Education Committee approved on Monday an amendment that extends remote learning in high schools through the end of the week, but only for another day in primary schools. Lawmakers gave the government a Tuesday night deadline to present a new proposal.
Earlier on Monday, local authorities and schools across Israel reported lack of data and knowledge about how to implement the new regulations on remote learning.
“It’s total chaos,” a source said in one of the red communities.
The Health Ministry has authorized the emergency use of Pfizer's antiviral COVID-19 pill, Paxlovid, the first at-home treatment for coronavirus that is expected to become an important tool in the fight against the fast-spreading omicron variant.
A first shipment of the drug is set to arrive in Israel this week.