JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel on Thursday dropped a “Green Pass” policy requiring proof of vaccination, recovery from COVID-19 or a negative test to enter some public venues, further rolling back restrictions as a wave of infections recedes.
The highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus peaked in Israel towards the end of January with daily cases reaching record highs of some 85,000, but numbers have steadily declined since to around 21,000 by Wednesday.
“The wave has broken,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at the start of a discussion with health officials on the state of the pandemic where he said Green Passes were being completely scrapped.
The Green Pass rules had already been cut back on Feb 4. Since then, the digital document had to be shown to gain entry to venues like nightclubs and celebration halls.
During its previous coronavirus wave, Israel adopted a “Living with COVID” policy. This has kept the economy and schools largely open, though some sectors suffered and classes were heavily disrupted by employees, customers pupils and teachers falling ill or isolating.
Bennett said parents would still be obliged to test their children for the virus twice a week with negative tests still required to visit care homes for the elderly.
Though Omicron has caused proportionally fewer severe infections and deaths than previous strains of the virus, the sheer magnitude of the surge put Israel’s healthcare system under strain, impacting quality of care.
Some scientists have criticised the government for easing restrictions over the past month rather than taking more measures to slow Omicron.
Israel, with a population of 9.4 million, has logged around 3.5 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic and more than 9,700 deaths. Some experts estimate that up to half the population may have been infected by Omicron.
(This refile adds word ‘to’ in paragraph 6)
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Mark Heinrich)