Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the coronavirus cabinet meeting Sunday that he plans to push through ad hoc legislation that would enable local authorities to receive the names of residents who have not yet been vaccinated.
The coronavirus cabinet approved moving forward with the proposal, which was also supported by the National Security Council. The health and justice ministries will send their required legislative amendments to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, which will approve it for a vote in the Knesset. The ministers agreed that the proposal must address how the information of those not yet vaccinated will be protected from access by unauthorized persons.
The cabinet also approved a proposal to allow up to 2,000 people to enter the country daily through Ben-Gurion Airport. Otherwise, the meeting ended without any decisions on resuming commerce and other steps toward exiting the lockdown. The deliberations will resume Monday morning.
Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen, of Kahol Lavan, called Netanyahu’s proposal “precedents we have to be careful with.” If such legislation is passed, she said, it should focus on residents aged 50 and over, and “be cautious about harming the right to privacy of those who are younger.”
The Health Ministry proposed a number of steps to raise the vaccination rate, including legislation that would allow workplaces where exposure is high, like schools and hospitals, to require employees to either be vaccinated or undergo frequent coronavirus tests. The ministry also suggested signing tourism agreements with various countries that would allow those who have been vaccinated to go abroad. Also suggested was giving benefits to local governments based on their vaccination rates, as well as incentives to doctors and nurses who bring people aged 50 and over to be inoculated.
An argument between Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit broke out during the discussion regarding to the regulations his office is preparing. It started after Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri said that there are gaps between the proposals being put forward by the Finance Ministry and the Health Ministry regarding the Green Badge plan that will grant preferential access to those who have been vaccinated.
“There are different proposals, different variations, between the treasury and the Health Ministry,” said Nizri. “Whether to open, with testing, without testing.”
- 94 percent drop in symptomatic COVID cases seen among vaccinated, biggest Israeli study shows
- Anti-vaxxer rabbi's COVID remarks 'dangerous and misleading,' Israel's Health Ministry warns
- Can Israel force people to get vaccinated for COVID? Legal experts weigh in
Netanyahu responded that he wanted all the proposals being made during the discussion to be addressed. “I think that with some hard and sweaty administrative work you can prepare [the proposals of both ministries].
Netanyahu demanded that the attorney general prepare separate legal treatments for each of the proposals raised during the discussions. “I'm getting a head start, and I’m telling you, prepare for the various possibilities in parallel,” Netanyahu told Nizri.
Mendelblit responded, “We will prepare based on the recommendation of the Health Ministry.”
Netanyahu replied, “I didn’t get an answer. I’m asking for work in parallel. There’s no reason to work [on each proposal] in turn. That makes it difficult to make decisions.” Mendelblit again said that his office will prepare the regulations according to the guidelines of the Health Ministry, “which is in charge of things.” To which Netanyahu responded, “I didn’t get an answer. Do what I say.”
Kahol Lavan demanded that the economy reopen this week to those who are vaccinated or have recovered from the coronavirus, while Netanyahu and Health Ministry officials want to wait until at least February 23. “We are seeing the start of a drop in morbidity and that’s a good sign,” Netanyahu said. “However, we have to act cautiously and open the economy gradually."
He added that they are adapting the lockdown exit plan to the outbreak of the British variant of the coronavirus, which seems to be particularly infectious. “We will open the economy in two stages: The first stage will begin next week, and during the second stage, around two weeks afterward, we will allow for benefits to those vaccinated, like letting them into hotels, museums, cultural performances, restaurants, pools, malls, soccer and basketball games, flights abroad and more… This week we will reach four million people vaccinated and that’s an incredible number. We have to get to five million vaccinated quickly, and then we will finally defeat the variant.”
Farkash-Hacohen proposed forbidding Israelis from vacationing abroad until Israeli hotels are allowed to open. “There’s no way that the Dubai events can repeat themselves,” she said, referring to the Israeli tourists who returned from the United Arab Emirates with the coronavirus. “There’s no way that vaccinated people will be allowed to fly as tourists abroad when Israeli hotels remain closed. This issue is causing incredible agitation in the hotel sector, and justifiably so.” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein agreed with Farkash-Hacohen.
The coming week will be a test for the vaccination campaign. Officials at Magen Yisrael, the national plan for combating the coronavirus, are following the dropping infection rate with “sober optimism.” Members of the task force are pleased with the trend, but warn that if the economy and schools aren’t opened gradually, and without monitoring the results of each step, Israel could find itself coping with another outbreak.