Virus Numbers Down, But Variants Still Scare Health Officials

YERUSHALAYIM -
Medical technicians lined up to test passengers for COVID-19 at Ben Gurion Airport. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israelis who were listening for a note of caution or pessimism amid the flurry of upbeat statements on the end of the pandemic were rewarded on Monday with a reminder from a senior health official about the lingering danger of variants.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the head of public health at the Health Ministry, said in a press briefing that “the issue that scares us the most is the entry of variants. The British strain rules here with 90 percent [of the cases], but the vaccine is effective against it. We also have the South African strain, which constitutes 1% [of case] but against which the vaccine is less effective. We’re afraid that additional strains that are stronger than the vaccine will enter through all [Israel’s] crossings.”

The cautionary comment came on the same day Israel announced it will be allowing flights in from all destinations, albeit maintaining the cap of 3,000 passengers per day.

However, she acknowledged that thanks to the vaccine, the virus is “constantly diminishing” and notes that now only 15% of Israeli municipalities are designated either “red” or “orange” in the country’s color-coded scheme for determining the severity of an outbreak.

Meanwhile, coronavirus commissioner Nachman Ash said that Israel’s Green Pass program would be probably be extended beyond the current six-month validity.

“We still do not know how long the vaccines will last. We will have to learn this from Pfizer’s studies and our data,” he told Army Radio. “The vaccine certificate will probably be valid for more than half a year — we will extend its validity.”

Under the now-relaxed virus rules, eateries are allowed to seat up to 100 people with Green Passes — indicating vaccination or recovery from the virus — indoors at up to 75 percent capacity, and up to 100 people outside, even without passes. Tables must be at least six feet apart. Event venues, attractions and hotels are open only to those with proof of vaccination or recovery.