Photo Credit: Noam Revkin / Flash 90
Medical personnel take test samples in order to check if Israeli travelers have been infected with the coronavirus at the Menachem Begin Terminal or Taba Crossing between Israeli and Egypt on August 01, 2021.

The Delta variant of COVID-19 is galloping along in the Jewish State, forcing the reactivation of major restrictions in the area of travel, social activities and large gatherings as well as updates in the rules about who can and should be vaccinated.

Let’s start with a basic timeline of how the virus has been making life interesting for the average Israeli — and the government.

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Six weeks ago Israel’s Health Ministry reported for the first time in months (on June 22) that newly diagnosed coronavirus cases had topped the one-hundred mark, at 105. The next day there were 110 new cases of the virus. The positivity rate in the country stood at 0.3 percent, little more than a week after the mandate to wear masks indoors had been lifted. There were 19 serious cases of the virus.

As COVID-19 Prevalence Rises; Health Ministry Restrictions Slowly Return

On June 23, the government Coronavirus Cabinet was reactivated. Participating ministers immediately decided to postpone the imminent opening of Israel’s borders to tourists from abroad.

In addition, the Health Ministry and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett together announced a new recommendation to vaccinate all 12-to-15-year-olds as well as all those traveling abroad. Approximately 85 percent of the eligible Israeli adult population was already vaccinated at the time against the coronavirus.

Renewed restrictions included a mandate to wear a mask indoors at Ben Gurion International Airport and all other border crossings as well as any location where medical treatment is provided.

The Health Ministry director-general was also empowered to issue an order mandating masks to be worn at any institution for a period of two weeks.

Barely three weeks later, the numbers began to skyrocket.

COVID-19 in July 2021
On July 12, there were 730 positive results from the 58,101 Israelis tested for the virus, raising Israel’s contagion rate to 1.26 percent. At least 46 patients were listed in serious to critical condition, including 10 patients being maintained on life support.

On July 19 — just one week later — the numbers had doubled with 1,538 Israelis diagnosed with new cases of the coronavirus out of 67,676 tests carried out – resulting in a 2.08 percent positivity rate. There were 121 patients listed in critical condition with 20 of those relying on ventilators for survival.

By then, new coronavirus restrictions were implemented: access to gatherings of more than 100 participants was to be limited solely to those with a “Green Pass” that proves vaccination or recovery from the virus. Those who undergo a PCR test within the prior 72 hours of the event were also allowed to enter.

Masks were mandated indoors nearly everywhere except while eating, drinking, or some other activity that can’t be done while wearing a mask. The rules — still — apply to bars, cafes, gyms, event halls, studios, hotels, tourist attractions, houses of worship, eateries, sports events, and conferences: in short, everywhere that close social interaction might take place.

On July 26, the number of new cases of the virus for the first time since March topped 2,000 – at 2,112 new cases – and the positivity rate rose to 2.3 percent of the 92,707 cases carried out one day earlier.

There were 145 patients listed in serious and critical condition – an increase of 17 patients from the night before. Of those, 24 patients were being maintained on respirators. The death toll rose to 6,461 Israelis who had lost their lives to COVID-19.

New Israeli Cases of COVID-19 Top 2,000, First Time Since March

Shops, malls, swimming pools, museums, libraries, national parks and nature reserves were not yet included among the restricted areas in which Israelis are required to mask up.

This weekend — on Saturday July 31 — the ministry reported 2,080 new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed out of 66,449 Israelis tested for the virus.

Health, Education Ministries Disagree on COVID-19 Guidelines, Morbidity Still Skyrocketing

By 10 am Sunday (Aug 1) 212 coronavirus patients were listed in serious and critical condition. Of those, 37 patients were depending on ventilators to survive. The COVID-19 death toll reached 6,474, the ministry reported.

Prime Minister, IDF Follows Up with Israeli HMOs
The prime minister and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz together spoke on Sunday (August 1) with the CEOs of Maccabi Healthcare Services, Leumit Health Care Services, Meuhedet Health Services and Clalit Health Services.

The CEOs described the increased demand across the country to receive the third vaccination and noted that lines at some of the switchboards have crashed, the prime minister’s office said in a statement.

Pursuant to the agreement with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the IDF is reinforcing the HMOs and assisting with their preparations, the PMO noted.

“The situation is good but we need to pick up the pace,” Bennett told the HMO CEOs. “The daily rate must be five times what it is now. The citizens of Israel must go out and get vaccinated.

“Our goal is to vaccinate everyone by the end of the month,” Bennett said. “This is ambitious but it is possible.

“It is hard to exaggerate the importance of the third vaccination,” Bennett said in his opening remarks to the government cabinet meeting on Sunday (Aug 1).

“Due to the Delta pandemic, we are seeing a great magnitude of infection around the world. The viral load that verified cases are carrying is immeasurably greater than before. Therefore, simply put, this is a way to save lives. It is simply a way to put a flak jacket on parents and grandparents. People need to go and get vaccinated immediately.

“We are in a race between the rate of immunization and the rate of infection. We know how to calculate the deceleration time, the braking distance – we hope that we do not have to use the brake, but it can certainly happen if we do not act fast enough. Conversely, if we all join in, we will beat the Delta.

“I call on everyone to take Mom and Dad. Now there is the new mitzvah – Vaccinate your father and mother.

“At the same time, I want to explain to both young people and the million [Israelis] who have not yet been vaccinated, it is critical that they go get vaccinated. Young people are being infected on a large scale, although they usually do not suffer much damage, but they bombard adults with viruses, which ultimately, if you bombard enough, infects. Like a flak jacket, it has its limitations. So also the young people who have not yet been vaccinated – go get vaccinated.”

Israeli Vaccination Rules Updated
Israel’s Health Ministry has recently approved COVID-19 vaccinations for children ages five and up who are at medical risk. Those considered in need of inoculation are to be determined individually by their doctors.

A third “booster” shot of the vaccine was approved for Israelis ages 60 and up, whose second inoculation took place five or more months ago.

This past Thursday President Isaac Herzog led off the campaign to vaccinate the country’s senior citizens by being the first in that age group to receive a third shot of vaccine.

This Sunday (Aug 1) the campaign to administer a booster shot to each eligible senior citizen kicked off full throttle. The Israeli government said it was hoping to inoculate 1.5 million seniors with a third dose of the vaccine in the next eight days.

Israel’s Current Travel/Tourism Restrictions
Despite initial plans to reopen the borders on August 1, for the time being tourists cannot enter Israel as individuals, unless they are coming to visit a first degree relative or are traveling as part of a small number of closed groups taking part in a pilot. However, hotels in Israel have mostly re-opened.

For those seeking up-to-date information on whether they can travel abroad, and to which destination it is deemed safe to do so, Israel’s COVID-19 International Travel site is a good bet. The site provides the necessary information in several languages, including English.

The same goes for Israelis abroad who are making their plans to travel to the Jewish State.

It is important to note that in addition to all the testing, vaccinations, and documentation one requires in order to travel, everyone six years old and up is required to wear a mask on board the aircraft. Masks must also be worn at the airport and at all times during the flight.

Latest Info on Travel Bans and ‘Amber’ List
As of this past Friday (July 30), the list of “red” destination countries banned by Israel for its citizens due to high COVID-19 infection rates includes: Cyprus, Georgia, United Kingdom and Turkey, in addition to those already on the list: Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Spain and Uzbekistan.

It is possible that Greece, Italy and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) may be added to this in the coming weeks, sources said.

No travel is permitted to these countries, nor are travelers from these locations allowed to enter Israel, without a special “exceptions” permit. Those who are permitted to enter from these countries are required to enter initial quarantine regardless of vaccination or recovery status.

“All foreign travelers, including those who have been vaccinated or recovered from the coronavirus, including B1 visa holders, and regardless of a serological test, who have stayed in one of the banned countries – UK, Spain, Turkey, Russia, India, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Cyprus, in the 14 days prior to their arrival in Israel, are not allowed to enter Israel – even with a B1 visa and a vaccination certificate,” said a statement from the Israeli government.

“Travelers who have stayed for up to 12 hours, exclusively in an airport, in one of the 14 countries mentioned, are able to apply for an entry permit conditional on a vaccination/recovery certificate. For example: if you visit Spain, you need to spend 14 days in France before being allowed into Israel,” the statement said.

The countries on the “high risk” list — not banned but definitely an issue — include: Cambodia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Fiji, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Liberia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Namibia, Panama, Paraguay, Seychelles, UAE, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“All foreign travelers, including those who have been vaccinated or recovered from the coronavirus, including B1 visa holders and regardless of a serological test, who have stayed in one of the above 18 countries in the past 14 days, are allowed to enter to Israel with an entry permit or a B1 visa, but are obligated to spend seven days in quarantine. A serological test cannot waive this obligation,” the Israeli government statement said.

To all of the above grim information, Israel’s Government Press Office added a cheery “Safe travels!”

COVID-19 Restrictions for Israel’s First Day of School?
It’s not entirely clear how the first day of school is going to look in Israel.

The Health Ministry, Education Ministry and Prime Minister Bennett are still duking it out over an outline presented to the Coronavirus Cabinet and not well received last week.

Yeshivas, cheders and girls’ schools in the nation’s Orthodox Jewish school system are slated to open on August 8. Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton told reporters last week that school system will begin studies in accordance with the outline she presented to the Coronavirus Committee.

The secular Israeli school system is scheduled to open classes on September 1, and protocols for that system are yet to be finalized.

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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.