Health Ministry Official: When We Cross 1,000 New COVID Patients a Day, We’ll Impose Restrictions

YERUSHALAYIM -

​The Constitution, Law and Justice Committee convened on Wednesday and voted to extend the Green Pass regulations by another two weeks, until Dec. 9. In addition, the committee approved the motion to extend until Dec. 22 the declaration of quarantine under electronic monitoring for all quarantined people, with the exception of those who are required to quarantine for up to 24 hours. The declaration states that quarantined people with compatible phones will receive text messages requesting their consent to electronic monitoring by tracking their location based on GPS data. Quarantined individuals without a compatible phone will receive a phone call for obtaining their consent; those who do not consent to technological monitoring will be subject to increased police enforcement.

Committee Chair MK Kariv said: “In previous discussions, it was stated that on Dec. 1 the Health Ministry would examine further steps to ease restrictions, and regrettably this is not the proposal brought by the government. Along with this, there are no new restrictions, but rather maintaining the existing situation. There is no doubt that the increase in infection underscores the need for quarantines at this time.”

Ilana Gens of the Health Ministry said: “After the welcome downward trend, we have seen in the past week an increase in the number of confirmed cases and in the R number, which stands at 1.08 this morning. We are seeing stable numbers in terms of mortality, although there was a slight increase in the past week, with 19 patients who died versus 12 the week before. Most of the new confirmed cases are aged six to 11, and another significant percentage consists of people aged 12 and above who have not been vaccinated, so we don’t attribute this to the start of immunity waning. For most of the population, less than four months have elapsed since the booster shot, and at the moment we don’t see a rise in infection among these groups.” Gens added that “part of the rise in morbidity is related to lessened compliance with the guidelines within the public.”

Chief scientist in the Public Security Ministry, Gad Frishman, presented statistics on monitoring by means of the Heskemon app: “We are still stable at a maximal rate of 23% consent to technological enforcement, and that is a troubling finding. Last month, the share of technological enforcement from all the enforcement components stood at 40%, and this month it reached 44%, while the share of in-person supervision of patients and quarantined individuals was 56% (45% quarantined and 16% patients). An upward trend can be seen in the past month in the in-person supervision of patients and quarantined individuals. The average daily in-person supervision rate in the past month stood at 21 visits to quarantined people, eight visits to patients, and 22 visits by technological supervision, per 1,000 people in quarantine.”

Amos Ben Avraham, head of the Israel Police Coronavirus Enforcement Directorate, said: “The Heskemon is a platform that enables us to reach people with a high level of reliability. Under extreme conditions, a discussion will start on the question whether the consent has to remain or whether people will be forced to share their location. This is very suitable for the appearance of a new variant, where you need, as the Prime Minister put it, to pounce on it and capture it, and take quick action among thousands of people. So it’s necessary for the tool to remain, and we have to do a lot of things to increase the motivation to cooperate.”

Committee Chair MK Kariv said about the enforcement statistics: “There are about 6,000 patients, there are 200 in-person visits [to patients] versus 800 visits among other quarantined people. I would expect to see a proportion of 90:10 or 80:20. The nominal numbers regarding patients don’t make sense. We’ve lost the deterrence in enforcing quarantines. At present there is no deterrence within the public, and the fines aren’t advertised. There is no sanction against a citizen who doesn’t respond to the Heskemon; why not send a segmented message to people who haven’t shared their location and haven’t done a second test?

“The time has come to improve the use of the Heskemon and reset the enforcement priorities. Something doesn’t make sense in the allocation of enforcement between quarantined people and patients. It makes no sense to make 800 visits to quarantined people and 200 to patients. Enforcement has to go first of all to the patients. Visits are a deterrent measure, and if we are reaching 350 patients in visits, along with the Heskemon, from a total of 6,000 patients — these are troubling statistics that require improvement,” MK Kariv said.

In the debate on extending the Green Pass regulations, Gens said, “Yesterday we saw a school that was closed due to the spread of infection. We are monitoring the ‘Green Classroom’ program and at times are forced to close down classrooms, but at the moment there is no sign that the situation is worsening, and we will continue to monitor the trends. There is an effort to stop the morbidity at this point. At present, we’re looking at the R number, and if it passes the 1.2 point we will have to impose stricter restrictions. This will find expression in limiting gatherings, at the first stage, including venues operating under Green Pass rules, such as events where we see more infections. Just as we lifted restrictions, we may have to return them, in keeping with the spread of infection. When we cross the line of 1,000 patients, that’s an event where we will probably have to take more significant steps in terms of restrictions. It’s difficult to stop morbidity when you reach a significant scale; any action we take at that stage will be less effective.”