On Monday morning, new restrictions on large stores and shopping malls came into force for a period of nine days, as the number of COVID-19 cases in Israel continues to increase with the spread of the Omicron variant. The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved the new rules on Sunday evening. As per these rules, the capacity in malls has been limited to one person every 15 square meters. Green Pass rules will also be applicable to employees and customers in all stores that are bigger than 100 square meters in either open-air or indoor malls, except for places providing essential services.
As per these rules, entry is granted only to those who have recovered from or are vaccinated against COVID-19 in the last six months, or have tested negative in 72 hours. The essential shops include those stores that provide medical aid products, optical products, or hygiene products, along with grocery stores and supermarkets. All these places will also limit capacity to one person for every seven square meters. Green Pass rules will also be applicable to restaurants in malls. Takeout will be allowed at food stalls in malls and only to those who have a Green Pass.
As far as the education system is concerned, students of grades 7 to 12 will be required to study remotely in communities categorized as ‘red’, if students less than 70% in the class are vaccinated. As for primary schools in these high infection areas, their goal is to reduce contact between the students. The positivity test rate for the coronavirus also rose over 2% on Sunday, according to the figures provided by the Health Ministry. Moreover, the virus transmission rate also reached levels that hadn’t been seen in Israel in six months. On Saturday, a total of 44,538 tests were conducted and 2.0% came back positive.
The last time the positivity rate had been higher than 2% was on October 7th when 2.14% of the tests had returned positive. Coronavirus case numbers are expected to increase rapidly in the next few weeks, as health officials and the Israeli government warned of a fifth wave because of the Omicron variant. The reproduction number, which is also called the ‘R’ number, has also been on the rise in Israel, as it reached 1.41, even though it had been 1.01 back in early December. The transmission rate is determined based on data of 10 days earlier. Any value above 1 indicates that the infection is spreading.
The last time the R number had been this high was back on July 10th when the fourth wave of the coronavirus had been at its peak due to the Delta strain. The number had reached 1.42 then. There has also been an increase in the number of seriously ill coronavirus patients, as they reached 98, a level that was seen almost two weeks ago. 45 people of this total are in critical condition, with 39 on ventilators and 18 on ECMO machines. However, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said that restrictions on travel would soon be removed in Israel.