אכיפת משטרה את הסגר השלישי בכיכר דיזנגוף בתל אביב
Police officers enforcing Israel's third COVID-19 lockdown in Tel Aviv
Photo: Moti Kimchi
Coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash

Q&A: what's the trajectory of the pandemic in Israel going forward?

While Israelis will celebrate the holiday of Purim under strict limitations, coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash answers the most burning questions regarding curfew restrictions, the vaccine and the virus itself

Alexandra Lukash |
Published: 02.24.21 , 23:15
The coronavirus cabinet approved on Tuesday a nighttime curfew for the duration of the Jewish holiday of Purim which will take effect between Thursday and Sunday from 8:30pm to 5am - in an effort to minimize festivities and prevent the further spread of the COVID-19.
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  • In order to clear the confusion, Israel's top coronavirus health official Prof. Nachman Ash answered a series of hot button questions regarding the curfew as well as the pathogen itself and the country's world-leading vaccination campaign.
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    פרופ' נחמן אש בריאיון אולפן ynet
    פרופ' נחמן אש בריאיון אולפן ynet
    Coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash
    (Photo: Hadar Yoavian)
    How worried are you about parties and gatherings on Purim?
    “It is very disconcerting. These are exactly the events in which people tend to contract the virus. One confirmed patient in one of these parties can infect up to 50 people, now multiply this by the number of parties planned.”
    Will there be restrictions on movement between 8:30pm to 5am when the curfew is in effect?
    “Yes, people will only be able to venture up to 1,000 meters from their homes during these hours. Restrictions on gatherings will also be in effect. This means that anyone leaving their home will have to come back by 8:30pm.”
    Will moving from city to city be restricted Friday morning and noon?
    “No, during the day there will be no restrictions on movement. And while gatherings are prohibited, traveling around the country is permitted until 8:30pm.”
    With public trust at an all-time low, how do you expect the people to adhere to the guidelines?
    Everyone needs to think about the good they are doing by adhering to the guidelines. If I am not infected, I will not infect others - family, friends. Plus, we have to look at what might happen if we do not adhere to the guidelines and infections start climbing again.”
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    אכיפת משטרה את הסגר השלישי בכיכר דיזנגוף בתל אביב
    אכיפת משטרה את הסגר השלישי בכיכר דיזנגוף בתל אביב
    Police officers enforcing Israel's third COVID-19 lockdown in Tel Aviv
    (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
    Is this the last lockdown?
    “I can't make such a promise. If the infections spike again, we will have to go back to our old solutions. That is why we're reopening everything gradually.”
    Does the vaccine also prevent infection?
    “We don't know for sure yet. We're assuming that it prevents infection to some extent but probably not 100%. Right now, studies about that are still ongoing. Yet, as long as nothing is proven, we must act as if those vaccinated can still spread the virus further.”
    Families still can’t gather even if all members received both shots and are fully inoculated, why?
    “We still don't know if the vaccine prevents the spread of the virus. We believe that if someone is inoculated but carries the virus, they can still spread it further and infect those who have yet to get the vaccine. One has to consider this possibility and be careful.”
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    Preparing the Pfizer vaccine for administration
    Preparing the Pfizer vaccine for administration
    Health worker holds a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine and a syringe
    (Photo: AP)
    Can those who received both shots, and are therefore fully immune, be indoors without a mask?
    “No. First, we still don't know if the vaccine provides full protection from infection. Second, there are new COVID variants that we don't know if they're resistant to the vaccine."
    What is the difference between the antibodies in people who have been vaccinated and those who have recovered from the disease?
    “Basically, there is no difference. Antibodies are formed as the body becomes acquainted with the virus, which is achieved both through inoculation or infection. And while both provide some protection against the virus, we still don't know what is more efficient.”
    When will Ben Gurion Airport open?
    “We are seeking a solution that will enable us to make sure travelers quarantine upon their return. We have indications that some of those arriving in Israel breach quarantine. Once we find a suitable solution, we can open the airport in a wider manner.”
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    A social distancing marker is seen on the floor at the departures terminal at Ben Gurion Airport
    A social distancing marker is seen on the floor at the departures terminal at Ben Gurion Airport
    A social distancing marker is seen on the floor of the departures terminal at Ben Gurion Airport
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Will the government allow those who recovered from the virus to get inoculated?
    “We will allow vaccination for people who have recovered. Full or not - it depends on professionals' assessments. One jab would probably be enough. Our expert team is currently debating the issue and will make a decision soon."
    When will it be possible to vaccinate children under the age of 16?
    “When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the vaccine for children.”
    Will we have to get vaccinated again further down the line?
    "We don't know yet. I assume that if the vaccine is not ‘updated’ to tackle new variants, then we will have no reason to get another jab come August. Of course, a new and improved vaccine can also come out, so we don't really know.”
    There are some who got inoculated but serological tests show that they haven't developed any antibodies, why is that?
    “We don't know yet. What we do know, is that the level of antibodies tends to decrease after the vaccine. However, this vaccine works on a cellular level. That is, the body's cells remember the virus, and as soon as it reenters the body, they quickly produce more antibodies.”
    Is there an Israeli variant?
    "There are many variants, and there are some in Israel as well. They have very little actual difference from the original strain, though. These variants are no more severe, and are no more resistant to the vaccine.”
    Does the British variant really affect young people more than the original virus?
    "I think you can cautiously say it does. While we do not have evidence to support this claim in Israel, in the UK, the variant has proven to be more contagious among young people, with some laboratories showing that it causes more severe illness.”
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    בית ספר בירושלים
    בית ספר בירושלים
    Children returning to school in Jerusalem amid COVID-19 pandemic
    (Photo: EPA)
    How is the Israeli vaccine coming along?
    “The Israeli vaccine is still in development stages. it passed the first phase of clinical trials and has now reached the second phase. We are waiting to see how things progress because, in the end. there is no guarantee it would succeed. Developing a vaccine is a complicated process, but one must understand that it may or may not work.”
    has the South African variant reached Israel?
    “We found very few cases of this variant here. Some people who have been fully inoculated were also found to have contracted this variant, among others, although they displayed only mild symptoms. We still don't know whether the South African variant is more contagious.”
    How will unvaccinated children be treated when it comes to the Green Pass?
    “The Green Pass is given only to those who were fully vaccinated against the virus or have recovered from it and permits entry to several locations such as gyms. This means that unvaccinated children will be prohibited from entering such places.”
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    שוק הכרמל
    שוק הכרמל
    Police officers enforcing COVID-19 lockdown in Tel Aviv
    (Photo: AP)
    Will there be a Passover lockdown?
    “We have been discussing Purim for a few weeks. We really wanted to do nothing and settle for the current restrictions, but then, new information came in about planned parties. As for Passover, it is a little too far to tell, I hope we can celebrate the holiday more freely than last year.”
    Will there be an outline for people who can't get vaccinated for health reasons?
    "Yes. The outline will be based on testing at the entrance to each site and venue. Or a test 48 hours in advance. I hope this will happen soon because we are aware of this population."
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