‘The Pfizer COVID vaccination was substantially less effective against the Delta version.’

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The Pfizer vaccine’s efficacy against the Delta version is “weaker” than health experts thought, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Friday, as 855 individuals tested positive for coronavirus and additional nations were added to the list of high-risk areas.

“We don’t know exactly how much the vaccine helps, but it’s a lot less,” Bennett said.

The prime minister held a meeting of top health officials and ministers to discuss the next steps for managing the virus in light of the numbers in Israel and what Bennett described as “the Delta mutation leaping forward around the world, including in vaccinated countries such as Britain, Israel and the US.”

He said that in “Britain, in recent days, we have seen a jump in the number of children who are being hospitalized on a daily basis. This is a development that we are aware of; we are dealing with it rationally and responsibly.”

The highest number of coronavirus cases since March was diagnosed on Thursday, with 1.52% of tests returning positive, the Health Ministry said in a Friday announcement.

While the spike in daily cases continues, the increase in serious morbidity has remained limited.

Of those infected, 52 were in serious condition, two less than the day before. A week earlier, there were 41. In April, with about 5,900 active cases, a similar number as now, more than 340 patients were in serious condition.

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The most plausible reason is that 2,000 of the current virus carriers are students, and half of them have been completely vaccinated. Even though severe forms of the disease may occur on occasion, both categories are extremely unlikely to get them — at the moment, around 60% of people in critical situations have been vaccinated.

The ministers met for many hours, finishing just before Shabbat, and agreed on numerous principles, the first of which is to begin quick home testing as soon as next week.

 

Bennett is focused on quick testing, which he wants to make available to everyone so that life may continue throughout the epidemic.

Furthermore, the ministers decided to prepare for the implementation of the “Happy Badge” which restricts admission to weddings and similar gatherings with more than 100 guests to individuals who have been vaccinated, recovered, or have a recent negative coronavirus test.

 

The system is only relevant for indoor gatherings where food and drinks are served and people both sit and stand. There will be no cap on participants, and people will be required to wear masks.

A joint team run by the Health and Transportation ministries will examine the policies at Ben-Gurion Airport. And the relevant authorities will begin preparations for the High Holidays and the opening of the school year in the shadow of coronavirus.

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Finally, the ministers decided that all of the employees engaged by hospitals to assist during the coronavirus crisis would be retained until the state budget was passed. This number comprises 600 doctors and 1,600 nurses.

Thousands of administrative and other support employees from 30 medical institutions throughout the country went on strike last week over 200 posts hired during the outbreak.

 

The strike ended on Thursday and all of the employees agreed to go back to work after a deal was brokered between Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and the Histadrut Labor Union that similarly said that until the state budget is formulated all employees that were hired during the COVID-19 pandemic would remain in their jobs.

The doctors, nurses and support staff who were hired to help the hospitals during the crisis were meant to lose their jobs at the end of the month.

In addition, it was agreed on Thursday that the chairman of the Histadrut, Arnon Bar-David, would discuss a wage increase for these workers with the Finance Ministry.

The meeting came shortly after the Health Ministry announced the intention to add Spain and Kyrgyzstan to the list of banned countries and the United Kingdom, Cyprus, Turkey, Georgia, Uganda, Myanmar, Fiji, Panama, Cambodia, Kenya and Liberia to the list of red countries – meaning that if Israelis travel to these places, they will have to be isolated on return for seven to 14 days.

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The United Arab Emirates, Seychelles, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Paraguay, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Tunisia are among the nations that have already issued a strong travel warning.

Argentina, Brazil, India, Mexico, Russia, and South Africa are among the nations prohibited. Israelis are not permitted to visit these countries unless they get authorisation from a specialised government committee.

The revised list of nations is likely to be approved by the government next week.

“The government will continue to monitor all developments and convene frequently to discuss them and plan the next steps in advance so that the public will understand where we are going and what we are doing, without the mishaps, without panic and, mainly – with advance planning – anticipate the future,” Bennett concluded.

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