Between half a million to one million Israelis will be vaccinated in the coming days, a senior official said Tuesday, as Israel's Green Pass system is set to renew on October 1 under new regulations.
"Mass inoculation will lead to the collapse of the R number," the official said, referring to the infection coefficient – the number of people each COVID carrier infects on average. That, he said, "will take us out" of the current wave of infection.
The remarks come a day after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took a stance against the opinion of healthcare experts, who advised imposing further restrictions, arguing they "don't see the full picture."
According to the official's estimates, Israel is nearing the end of its most recent infection wave, which began in August, spurred by the highly infectious delta variant.
Bennett decided to extend the green passport for only those who have received the third jab of the coronavirus vaccine from October 1, or for those who received their second jab in the past six months.
From October 1, the Green Pass will be enforced through reading its barcode, instead of "through paperwork whose credibility cannot be inspected," the official said.
By Tuesday, 3,252,662 Israelis received their COVID-19 booster shot. In the past week, between 3,000 to 30,000 individuals received their third vaccine shot each day, indicating a drop in daily vaccine rates from those in late August and early September, which saw around 100,000 individuals a day receive their third vaccine.
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The number of vaccines administered daily over the past days fluctuated as the Jewish High Holy Days affected business hours.
More than 60 percent of COVID-related deaths in Israel over the past week have been of unvaccinated patients, as official Health Ministry data shows that the 17 percent of eligible Israelis who have not received the vaccine have accounted for 85 coronavirus deaths in the past week.
As of Tuesday, when the latest Health Ministry figures were released, there were 660 patients in serious condition, with 285 in critical condition and 227 on ventilators.
The Health Ministry also logged 5,159 new cases on Monday. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 7,692 people have died from the coronavirus in Israel.
Bennett vs. experts
On Monday, Prime Minister Bennett criticized healthcare experts after they called to renew restrictions due to the spread of the coronavirus. “With all due respect to medical experts, some of them don’t see the full picture. They won’t make the decisions on a national level, we will,” he said.
“I very much appreciate the Health Ministry officials. Their job is to give medical input and my job and my responsibility is to decide. In the end, the responsibility is on me, not them,” he added.
At a press conference in New York shortly after his speech to the UN General Assembly, Bennett said that some healthcare professionals “were against the booster in real time.” As for calls to restrict gatherings, he said: “I don’t accept the ‘who cares’ approach regarding money and making a living."
Bennett added: “If we analyze the centers of serious illness at the moment, 40 percent is in the Arab community, which is greater than the proportion of the ultra-Orthodox in the population as well as greater than the poor population among adults.” Bennett said the pandemic was now to a great extent “sectorial.”
“They tell me, impose restrictions across the board – that is, stop all events with more than 300 people," Bennett said, arguing such a policy will cost the economy billions of shekels. He said that when asked the experts why a concert should be cancelled “because of one group or another, they stuttered."
Responding to Bennett’s remarks, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz tweeted: “Let it be clear, the Health Ministry experts are doing devoted and excellent work on an international level. They are saving lives every day. They have my full backing and I have nothing but praise for them.
"Their recommendations are the first consideration guiding us, even if it’s not the only one…They must express all opinion regarding our conduct, as politicians, even if we’re not comfortable with it," Horowitz said.
During his remarks to the UN General Assembly, Bennett described Israel's fight against COVID and said that according to his policy the country had to remain open. He later said: “Running a country during a pandemic is not only about health. It's about carefully balancing all aspects of life that are affected by the coronavirus, especially jobs and education. The only person that has a good vantage point of all of this – is the national leader of any given country.”