- Israel reintroduced a raft of new restrictions amid a surge of the Delta coronavirus variant.
- It comes after the country speedily vaccinated a majority of the population.
- The restrictions are a bid to prevent a full-blown lockdown, Prime Minister Naftali said.
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Israel reintroduced an array of restrictions amid rising numbers of Delta-variant COVID-19 cases, despite its world-beating vaccination rollout.
Daily new cases rose to 3,260 on Tuesday, according to The Times of Israel – the country’s highest level of new cases since March.
Ministers on Tuesday approved rules that require mask-wearing at outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people. Close contact such as hugging and kissing and indoor socializing is discouraged, the paper reported.
People who care for an infected child under 12 will have to isolate, and half of public-sector workers will work from home, the paper reported. Private companies are also encouraged to allow remote working, according to the paper.
Israel also plans to expand its Green Pass system on August 20, the paper reported.
The system previously allowed people to document that they were free of the virus, or vaccinated, in order to get into venues holding more than 100 people.
With the new restrictions, the Green Pass system will apply to venues of any size, the Health Ministry announced.
The new restrictions are an attempt to avoid another full lockdown, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said. He assumed the role in June, unseating longtime leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Our goal is to keep Israel open, and it is still possible,” the paper reported him as saying. “But we can’t get into a situation where the hospitals will one day have to say ‘We have no room, you can’t come in.’
“We will know when we need to hit the brakes.”
Before the announcement, the country had appeared to have left the pandemic behind through its speedy mass vaccination program. As of Thursday, Israel had administered more than 11 million doses, enough to double-vaccinate 62% of the population, Reuters reported.
In mid-April, with more than half the country vaccinated, outdoor mask-wearing was abandoned. By late April, cases had stalled completely, according to Johns Hopkins University’s cases tracker.
But late June saw cases begin to rise again. The Delta variant was driving the surge, and as many as half of new cases were in vaccinated people, as Insider’s Marianne Guenot reported. However, the cases in vaccinated people were less severe.
Bennett, an ultra-nationalist millionaire, was admonished by Netanyahu in July when cases began to rise, The Times of Israel reported. It appeared to be retribution for a campaign during which Bennett had sharply attacked Netanyahu on COVID-19.
On July 29, Israel began offering third “booster” shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to older people, following a trickle of studies that appear to show that the vaccine’s efficiency wanes over a period of months.