Israel may have to reimpose coronavirus restrictions as the Delta variant fuels a surge in new cases.
The country’s rapid vaccine rollout was initially successful, bringing the country down to just a handful of new infections per day. But now the rate has climbed back up to roughly 300 new cases per day — largely due to the spread of the Delta variant. Emerging research suggests Delta is more transmissible and possibly deadlier than other coronavirus strains that have emerged so far.
The outgoing director of Israel’s Health Ministry, Chezy Levy, said at the end of June that the Delta variant accounted for about 70% of the country’s new infections.
In a coronavirus-cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Israeli officials are set to discuss how to curb the virus’s renewed spread, The Times of Israel reported. The government may reinstate the “Green Pass” system that it retired on June 1, when the country was reporting fewer than 20 new cases per day.
Green Pass was a vaccine-passport system that allowed vaccinated people — as well as those who have recovered from a coronavirus infection — to return to indoor dining, shows, and events. Reinstating that system would mean limiting some gatherings and barring unvaccinated people’s access to some venues.
“In the last week there has been an increase in the rate of infection,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told a cabinet meeting on Sunday, according to The Jerusalem Post. “As part of what we have learned from the past, we will not wait to protect the health of Israeli citizens.”
He added: “Without the cooperation of the citizens of Israel, and if the morbidity continues to rise, we will consider reimposing some of the restrictions connected to the Green Pass.”
Vaccines have proven effective, but Delta threatens Israel’s progress
Vaccines have significantly decreased severe illness and deaths in Israel. Even with Delta spreading, the Pfizer vaccine has been 93% effective at preventing hospitalizations, the Health Ministry has reported.
But in preventing infections overall — including mild ones — the vaccine’s efficacy has dropped from 94.3% between May 2 and June 5 to 64% from June 6 to July 3, according to the news site Ynet.
About 38% of Israel’s population remains unvaccinated, according to The New York Times’ tracker. Those people are vulnerable to severe illness and death as case counts rise. It’s not yet clear whether vaccinated people with mild infections of the Delta variant can spread it to the unvaccinated.
Already since June, the Israeli government has reinstated an indoor mask mandate and tightened restrictions on travelers from other countries. It’s also announced that vaccinated people may be ordered to quarantine if they’re exposed to the Delta variant.
Still, researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem predicted that the nation could hit 1,000 cases per day in just two weeks if more isn’t done to curb the virus’s spread, according to local media.
Levy told Israeli TV station Channel 12 on Sunday that Israel may need to start limiting large gatherings again — particularly those involving children and unvaccinated people.
“We’re not close to what we’ve seen in the past,” he said, according to The Times of Israel. “It’s nothing like the caseload we had earlier.”
At the peak of its largest COVID-19 surge, earlier this year, the nation reported nearly 12,000 new cases in a single day.