Photo Credit: Flash90
Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett holds a press conference at the Ben Gurion International airport, on June 22, 2021.

Israel’s Health Ministry has officially proposed a renewed mandate to require masks indoors at select locations in the Jewish State, according to a report by Channel 12 News.

There’s good reason for that: on Monday alone, tests confirmed 125 new cases of COVID-19 in the country, bringing the total of current active cases to 477, the Health Ministry reported Tuesday. Of those, there are 26 seriously ill patients, including 19 in critical condition, with only one not being maintained on a respirator.

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Some of those who are ill are Israelis who have already been vaccinated: 5,504,560 Israelis have received their first dose of the two-shot Pfizer BioNTech vaccination series, and 5,152,520 have been fully vaccinated.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told reporters at Ben Gurion International Airport on Tuesday there is an “eruption” of the COVID-19 Delta variant – first identified in India – in Israel.

“I recommend going back to wearing masks indoors and have instructed government ministers and public figures to do so,” Bennett said. “Vaccinate your children now – we have only a limited supply of vaccines left.

“Anyone who doesn’t need to travel should not do so. Significant changes should be expected leaving and entering the country. Don’t book a vacation if you haven’t already,” he added. (ed: emphasis added). As of now, Israelis are not listening to that last instruction, and bookings haven’t slowed down.

The World Health Organization warned Monday night that the Delta variant of COVID-19 moves “faster and [is] more dangerous,” adding that this variant has now become the most dominant strain in the world and may be the deadliest. The WHO added that the Delta variant is now responsible for “at least” 10 percent of all new cases around the world.

It is believed the Delta variant – 60 percent more contagious than the UK variant, which was 70 percent more contagious than the original SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus strain — was introduced into the country via a returning Israeli who had flown abroad.

Bennett called on youth to be vaccinated by July 9, as the current supply of vaccines may be expiring after that date.

“We do not want to go back to lockdowns and general quarantines,” he said, “so we are asking those who do not need to, to refrain from flights. And “that July 1 reopening to vaccinated tourists? Highly unlikely,” he added.

Bennett listed the new measures being implemented to contend with the outbreak:

  1. Re-establishment of the Coronavirus Cabinet
  2. Requirement to wear a mask indoors at the airport.
  3. Arrivals to the country will be asked to undergo coronavirus testing.
  4. The number of checkpoints are to be increased at Ben Gurion International Airport.
  5. Vaccinations for children and adolescents. “We are officially calling on all young people 12 and older to go be vaccinated as soon as possible… All scientific indicators in Israel and abroad show that the danger from the disease is immeasurably higher than the risk of the vaccine… I tell you as the father of children this age, I am taking my children to be vaccinated. The Interior Minister informs me that her children have already been vaccinated.”I want to give you the picture about the inventory. The vaccines that we have will mostly expire by the end of July. This means that to complete the two vaccines, one needs to receive the first vaccine by July 9. We have enough in stock for everyone but for whoever is not vaccinated by July 9, we will not have vaccines for later. This would be a pity. Therefore, I ask, the pace of vaccinations right now is not good. Only 2,000 young people are being vaccinated a day and in order to meet our goal we need 20,000. In simple language, I am calling on parents – go out immediately, coordinate with your HMO, you already know the procedure, go and be vaccinated so that you certainly manage to receive the first dose before July 9. As a parent, I am not waiting; I will do this tomorrow. Because if the first vaccination is not administered by July 9, we will be unable to vaccinate because of the expiry date.
  6. Return to masks. “On behalf of the professionals, I recommend: Let’s go back to wearing masks in closed places. I am instructing government ministers, public leaders from this moment in closed places, to wear a mask.” The reason this is not yet an obligatory directive is because government officials want to track the numbers for several consecutive days, to see if there are 100 or more active cases newly diagnosed per day. If that becomes the case, indoor masks “will then be an obligatory directive,” Bennett said.
  7. Isolation. “Regarding quarantine, I regret that there have been massive violations of quarantine. I ask that the citizens of Israel, certainly those who have returned from abroad, be strict about the quarantine. To this end we are extending the mobilization of 270 inspectors.”
  8. Isolation violations. “There was a loophole that if a child violated quarantine, because he did not bear responsibility and neither did his parents, then nobody did. We are closing this loophole. The parents of children who violate quarantine will bear full responsibility if the children are below age 12. But let us not have to resort to sanctions; we are one nation,” he said.

There is “no need to panic” at present, Bennett underlined, adding “we’re in good shape right now.

“We will guard the borders of the country, we will tighten them. Inside the country, I call on everyone: We must do this together, together. Let’s extinguish this so we can get on with our daily routines. It depends on your conduct alone,” Bennett said.

On a final point – “because children under 12 cannot be vaccinated, and from 12-16 they have not yet been vaccinated, and until 18 as well, our main focus is on children and young people – therefore, watch them. We are starting the summer. I know that this is difficult, there will be infection here and there, but let us avoid large-scale events in closed places, as much as possible.”

“Use common sense, we do not want to return to the days of general lockdown or lockdowns on cities. We can avoid this; it depends on you alone,” he said.

“If we all look at the bigger picture and think, we will understand that poor behavior on our part will hurt others. We can defeat the coronavirus without draconian measures.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.