Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the coronavirus cabinet on Sunday that any major lifting of restrictions can only take place when at least five million people have been vaccinated in Israel.
The government last week began discussions on approval of the "Green Pass" outline that's supposed to see culture and trade industries reopen for Israelis who had been inoculated with both vaccine shots.
Ministers, however, continued to be at loggerheads over the pace of further easing of lockdown restrictions during the afternoon meeting. Defense Minister Benny Gantz's Blue & White party is pushing for the first phase to be implemented this week, accusing Netanyahu of delaying the easing of restrictions to push the roll out closer to the March 23 elections.
Netanyahu started the meeting by saying the decision on reopening should be made without political interests. "You see what happened the last time we listened to those who called for a swift opening, there must be no political considerations," he said.
"We need to reach five million vaccinated [before reopening]."
Gantz replied that he will not accept anymore delays in reopening and dismissed Netanyahu's claims that calling for swift lockdown exit puts lives at risk. "I will not forgive you for saying that I am endangering human lives only because I did not agree with you ... I have fought for the citizens of Israel all my life."
Prompting Netanyahu to reply that he will not entertain "irrelevant" remarks and doubled down on his previous statements.
"We are seeing the beginning of a decline in infections and that is a good sign. However, we must be careful and open up the economy gradually. We must not push for a quick and irresponsible reopening, which would endanger the lives of many Israelis. We need a responsible plan."
Prof. Nachman Ash, mastermind of the "Green Pass" outline, at the start of the meeting recommended passing a legislation that would oblige those who work in sectors with high risk of being exposed to the virus, including teachers and medical workers, to get vaccinated.
According to the Health Ministry outline, the first stage of reopening is set for Feb. 23 and will see grades 5-6 and 11-12 return to schools and street shops resume operations.
This stage also includes the reopening of malls, shopping centers, gyms, cultural and sports venues - including limited live shows - museums, galleries, libraries and hotels with no dining areas.
The final stage, which is set to begin on Mar. 9, will see grades 7-10 return to schools in all low- to mid-level infection municipalities. Cafes and small restaurants will also reopen to all public, including those not vaccinated.
Entry to restaurants (with a prior reservation), hotels with dining areas, event halls, attractions and conferences will still only be permitted to those holding a green passport.