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December 17, 2020 10:40 am

Israel’s Coronavirus Coordinator: Life Will Be ‘Saner’ by March

avatar by Israel Hayom / JNS.org

People wear protective face masks as they shop at a market, amid Israel’s second-wave coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, in Jerusalem, Oct. 5, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Ammar Awad.

JNS.org – With Israel on track to see an average of 2,500 new COVID-19 cases per day within 10 days, reinstating a policy of rigorous restriction was unavoidable, National Coronavirus Project Coordinator Nachman Ash told Israel Hayom on Wednesday.

Ash said that even though a nationwide vaccination campaign would begin immediately, Israel needed to be on the alert.

“It might be hard for the public to accept the restrictions. Some would say it doesn’t make sense to declare rigorous restrictions as we are beginning to vaccinate, but when you analyze [the situation] based on the facts—we need to address the here and now, even as the vaccination campaign gets underway, and be prepared to see the effects of the vaccine in another three months,” Ash said.

The “coronavirus cabinet” has approved restrictive policies that will include closures of workplaces that deal with the general public and businesses. For now, tourism in approved “green islands” will continue, as well as certain businesses that take in one client at a time, such as hairdressers. Public schools in communities coded green and yellow under the Health Ministry’s “traffic light” plan will remain open.

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Ash said that a policy of rigorous restriction was not expected to pose a problem when it came to administering the vaccinations, which would continue even if the country went into full lockdown.

“In March-April we’ll be living a saner life thanks to the vaccinations. I assess that we can drop the masks only when about 60 percent of the population is vaccinated around May or June, when the weather is warmer,” he added.

Q: How have we gotten ourselves into this situation?

“Because of a number of things. Trips abroad, failure to adhere to quarantine, weddings and [other] events. In addition, hundreds of COVID-19-positive people are arriving from abroad. It’s hard to say how that affects the rate of spread, but it could be a major factor. If there were absolute discipline when it came to following [public health] instructions, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”

According to Ash, data show that many Israelis returning from abroad ignore the mandatory quarantine orders—with 45 percent self-quarantining as ordered and 55 percent violating the policy.

“We are now launching an operation to keep better tabs on people in isolation, with help from the Defense Ministry and a program that provides support to local authorities. We will be visiting people in isolation at home,” Ash said.

Q: Why hasn’t the Health Ministry set a goal for the rate of vaccinations it wants to see, either in the population at large or in target groups (such as the elderly or medical workers)?

“We want to reach to a 60 percent vaccination rate among people who can be vaccinated. It isn’t a defined goal, but assessments are that this number will provide good herd immunity. Various surveys of medical workers indicate that 50 percent said they wanted to be vaccinated, but I expect that will change with time.”

Meanwhile, the “green passport” plan—a benefit to be provided to recovered COVID-19 patients and Israelis who have received the COVID-19 vaccine—is expected to become operational in January. In its first stage, the green passport will allow holders entry into tourism islands in Eilat and the Dead Sea, and allow travelers from abroad to skip the mandatory quarantine. The green passport will be included in a new application from the Health Ministry. At a later date, officials will decide whether or not the passport will allow holders entry into cultural or sports events. For now, it appears that Israelis who want to attend cultural events or a sports match but decline the vaccine might be able to be tested for COVID-19 in the days preceding the event.

“The dilemma is over places like shopping malls,” Ash explained, “because keeping them closed keeps out groups like kids or teenagers who can’t get vaccinated. There is also a problem prioritizing resources for such a purpose.”

When asked if the green passports will allow Israelis to hold weddings and other similar events, Ash responded, “Theoretically, yes, but we still haven’t discussed it. [Perhaps] if … rapid testing kits enable entry only to people who test negative or who have been vaccinated. But there would be limitations on the number of participants.”

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