Israel lifts almost all coronavirus restrictions as daily cases near zero

Only measure still in place is requirement to wear masks in shared indoor spaces, although this is also expected to be dropped by end of month

People attend a movie at Cinema City in Jerusalem. Israel officially reopened cinemas after more than a year of closure following a successful vaccination campaign against Covid-19. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

People attend a movie at Cinema City in Jerusalem. Israel officially reopened cinemas after more than a year of closure following a successful vaccination campaign against Covid-19. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

 

Israel has lifted almost all of its coronavirus restrictions, six months after the launch of a vaccination drive that has seen the daily infection rate plummet to near zero.

As of Tuesday, children and adults who have not been vaccinated were allowed to join multi-participant events, enter businesses, restaurants, gyms, hotels, concerts, and attend other activities – without restriction or proof of vaccination.

With only a handful of new cases each day, Israel now has only 352 active cases and 49 coronavirus patients are currently hospitalised in serious condition.

Some 5.5 million Israelis have been vaccinated so far (of which about 5.1 million have received two doses) out of a total population of 9 million, and more than 832,000 have recovered from the disease.

Israel benefited from a number of advantages to launch one of the world’s most successful vaccination drives at the end of last year: it is small, has a well-equipped public health system and ample experience in coping with national emergencies.

The vaccination campaign is likely to be extended next week to Israel’s 600,000 young people aged between 12 and 15. However, due to the low national rate of coronavirus infections and the fact that the risk of this age group developing serious symptoms is extremely low, parents will be given freedom of choice and health authorities will refrain from the aggressive campaigns that featured during the adult vaccination drive.

Serological test

The only restriction still in place is the requirement to wear masks in shared indoor spaces, although this is also expected to be dropped by the end of the month.

Restrictions for international travellers remain in place in order to prevent new variants of the virus from entering the country and spreading among the population. Although Israel will allow some vaccinated tourists to enter the country, they will continue to be required to take a serological test to prove they have antibodies before travelling inside the country.

A total of 6,412 people have died in Israel from Covid -related illnesses. At the height of the pandemic, there were 88,000 active cases in the country, with thousands more added daily, and 1,228 serious cases.

Israel was one of the first countries in the world outside of east Asia to impose major restrictions on its citizens and those entering the country. Restrictions on gatherings and quarantine measures were first introduced in early March 2020, and three lockdowns were introduced.

Prof Dror Mevorach, head of internal medicine at Jerusalem’s Hadassah medical centre, welcomed the end of the restrictions.

“Cases have decreased and even among the population that is not vaccinated the disease is not spreading,” he said. “In short, we have returned to normal life.”