Israel's battle against the delta variant of the coronavirus is expected to last many months, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz warned on Wednesday. "We expect to see an increase in cases of infection in the coming weeks, and unfortunately also in the number of seriously ill patients," he said at a news conference.
"We understand that the coronavirus won't soon disappear from the world. Our strategy is clear – living with the coronavirus," he said, adding that members of the public will have to demonstrate personal responsibility if restrictions that would affect daily routines are to be avoided.
Israel has among the highest coronavirus vaccination rates in the world, thanks to its early procurement of large quantities of Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19, but on Wednesday, the Health Ministry announced that the country's four HMOs would be provided with vaccine produced by Massachusetts-based Moderna and that inoculations with the Moderna vaccine would begin on August 1.
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The Pfizer vaccine will now only be administered to patients between the age of 12 and 18 and for second doses of the vaccine. Unlike the two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which are administered 21 days apart, the Moderna vaccine is given 28 days apart.
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Israel currently has several hundred thousand doses of the Moderna vaccine, but it expects a shipment of 6 million more doses to be delivered next year.
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use the same mRNA technology, but Israel has refrained from administering both to simplify the procedure. It did, however, offer the Moderna vaccine to Palestinian laborers in Israel.
Looking ahead to the beginning of the new school year on September 1, Horowitz said that the government intends to "fully open the school year normally" thanks to a variety of steps that the Health Ministry is taking, in addition to an expansion of the availability of COVID-19 testing. As of next week, the health minister explained, the Magen David Adom emergency medical service will open rapid coronavirus testing stations around the country and Israeli pharmacies will be selling home testing kits providing rapid results.
A meeting by the coronavirus cabinet originally scheduled for Wednesday was deferred to Thursday.
New coronavirus regulations went into effect on Wednesday morning, as the government ramped up its efforts to curb the spread of the delta variant across Israel. According to the new restrictions, public places and businesses are prohibited from admitting anyone not wearing a mask. They must display signs mandating masks and use their public address systems to remind people of the requirement. Any person entering a site without relevant proof of immunity could be fined 1,000 shekels ($300), with the venues facing much higher penalties.
Restrictions on events attended by more than 100 people in closed venues, such as banquet halls, clubs, and conference venues, have also gone into effect and require those in attendance to present a vaccination or recovery certificate or a negative test result. The so-called Green Pass requirements in Israel apply to all events that take place in closed spaces, even if they also take place outdoors in part or if the venue has an outdoor space.