Israel's Relaxed Rules on Outdoor Activities Go Into Effect as COVID Infection Remains Low

Health Ministry chief says 'with much greater certainty than a week ago' that Israel is on course to ending its delta COVID wave

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Students wearing face masks at the University of Haifa on the first day of the academic year, on Sunday.
Students wearing face masks at the University of Haifa on the first day of the academic year, on Sunday.Credit: Amir Levy

A series of new measures relaxing COVID restrictions on outdoor activities went into effect Monday, as key metrics remain low.

According to a decision last week by the ministerial committee coordinating Israel's coronavirus response, outdoor seating areas in restaurants and enclosed swimming pools are open to all, regardless of vaccination status.

Limits on the number of customers in restaurants with outdoor seating were also removed, but tables must be at last 1.5 meters (5 feet) apart.

Also on Monday, a top Health Ministry official said a "downward trend" in infection and other measures of the pandemic's spread in Israel is becoming increasingly clearer.

The Health Ministry's director-general, Prof. Nachman Ash, noted in an interview with Kan Bet public radio that the R number – the average number of people each confirmed carrier infects – has remained below 1 "for a considerable time at this point."

When the R number, or infection coefficient, is lower than 1, it means the pandemic is shrinking. Official figures put the current R number at 0.7, the lowest it's been in a month.

"It looks like this wave is on its way to being behind us," Ash said.

According to the latest Health Ministry figures, Israel reported 1,457 new cases on Sunday, a slight increase from the day before.

Around 15 percent of eligible Israelis over the age of 12 are still unvaccinated, but represent more than 75 percent of the 447 patients in serious condition. As of Monday morning, 186 COVID patients are on ventilators.

Since the start of the pandemic, Israel recorded 7,920 COVID-related deaths.

Meanwhile, after technical glitches marred Israel's launch of a new vaccine certificate, a Knesset panel decided on Sunday to let workers in health and welfare institutions and leisure facilities use a different COVID certificate through Tuesday next week, to give them more time to issue a new Green Pass.

Last week, the Health Ministry began issuing a new version of the Green Pass to be presented and scanned in public places, but due to initial technical problems, the former Green Pass will be accepted until October 17.

The new pass required receiving a third COVID vaccine shot, having recovered from COVID within the past six months, or having recovered more than six months ago but receiving at last one dose of the vaccine.

The new criteria meant that about 1.9 million Israelis who had a Green Pass under the previous regulations are no longer eligible for it.

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