Rising Covid-19 cases sees Israel consider new restrictions

Among measures likely to be introduced are rapid testing for children at events and mandatory testing at facilities for older people

 A minor getting  a free ice-cream after receiving a Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination station in Tel Aviv, Israel. Photograph:EPA/Abir Sultan

A minor getting a free ice-cream after receiving a Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination station in Tel Aviv, Israel. Photograph:EPA/Abir Sultan

 

With Covid-19 cases rising daily, Israel is considering new restrictions to stop the spread of the virus.

Israel led the world with its rapid vaccination rollout, and a few months ago all restrictions were lifted as the country returned to normal life.

However, the spread of the Delta variant has changed the equation, and last month masks were again made mandatory in indoor spaces. The daily infection rate is up to 500, and health officials warn that it will reach 1,000 and more by next week.

Among the measures likely to be introduced are rapid testing for children at public events, mandatory testing at facilities for older people, and mandatory quarantine for a parent whose child has tested positive for the virus.

Health officials are also pushing for isolation to be made mandatory for fully vaccinated Israelis who are returning from countries with high coronavirus infection rates.

Preparations are being made at Ben Gurion Airport to enlarge the army-run testing area at Terminal 1 where flights will arrive from countries classified as red and from countries for which there are travel advisories.

Hospitals have also been told to prepare to reopen designated coronavirus wards.

Health minister Nitzan Horowitz said Israel was trying to battle the virus while avoiding “panic” and keeping restrictions to a minimum to enable the continuation of near-normal life.

The health ministry released data showing that the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine against infection from the Delta variant was only 64 per cent. However, the Pfizer vaccine still prevents hospitalisation and severe illness, even against the Delta variant, with an efficacy rate of 93 per cent.

A new study from Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv says that vaccinated individuals who test positive for Covid-19 are less contagious than their unvaccinated counterparts.

According to the study – conducted in conjunction with Harvard University over a period of several months – those who have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and then test positive, pass the disease on to fewer people in their surroundings.

Surplus of vaccines

Meanwhile, Israel and South Korea have agreed to exchange Covid-19 vaccines, solving Israel’s problem of a surplus of vaccines that will expire by the end of the month.

A plane carrying 700,000 Pfizer vaccine doses took off for South Korea on Tuesday afternoon. In return, South Korea will give Israel the same number of vaccines from a future order between September and November.

This is a first agreement for exchanging vaccines between Israel and another country.

Israel has approximately one million unused doses worth millions of euro that were purchased from Pfizer last year and will expire at the end of July. The deal was made weeks after the Palestinian Authority backed out of a similar agreement, saying the vaccine doses were too close to their expiration date despite Israel using the same batches to vaccinate teenagers.

Prime minister Naftali Bennett described the deal with South Korea as a “win-win” for both countries.