Israel Sees Small Rise in Infection Rate as Economy Reopens

In the Arab community, the R number decreases, but rises in the ultra-Orthodox community ■ Israel's coronavirus czar says masks don't necessarily help in preventing infection in the open air, but rules aren't expected to change

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People eat at the Azura restaurant in Jerusalem on Sunday after restaurants, bars and cafes reopened to vaccinated "green pass" holders.
People eat at the Azura restaurant in Jerusalem on Sunday after restaurants, bars and cafes reopened to vaccinated "green pass" holders. Credit: Menahem Kahana / AFP

Israel saw a slight increase in its R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – on the same day that the country reopens its economy, the Health Ministry reported on Sunday.

According to Health Ministry figures, the R number rose from 1.01 on Saturday to 1.02 on Sunday.

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In the Arab community, the R number has decreased to 1.04 over the same period of time, while the number in the ultra-Orthodox community has risen to 1. The Health Ministry figures also revealed that 724 coronavirus patients in Israel are in a critical condition, with around 210 on respirators.

Meanwhile, Israel's coronavirus czar, Prof. Nachman Ash, said on Sunday that wearing masks in the open air was not critical. However, he added in an interview with Kan Bet public radio that in order not to confuse the public and to encourage precaution, wearing masks in public will remain mandatory.

According to data released by the Health Ministry Sunday, Israel has inoculated almost 4.93 million people (53 percent of the population) and 3.71 million people (40 percent of the population) have received the second dose of the vaccine.

More than 90 percent of Israelis 50 and over received at least the first dose of the vaccine so far, with the highest inoculation rate among the 70-79 age group.

Israel last month launched a “Green Pass” system granting certain privileges to citizens who have had both doses of the vaccine or have recovered from COVID-19.

The government lifted several lockdown restrictions  on Saturday evening, including the opening of restaurants and cafés, allowing up to a total of 100 guests inside and outside. Guests without a vaccination certificated or green pass will only be allowed to sit outside. Groups of people at restaurants and bars will be required to sit at least two meters apart. Event halls will be allowed to open at 50 percent capacity, with up to 300 people. Up to five percent in attendance will be permitted to enter after showing a negative coronavirus test instead of a vaccination certificate.

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