With nearly all coronavirus restrictions set to be lifted Tuesday, a senior health official said that it was still unclear whether Israel has achieved herd immunity.
On Sunday, the Coronavirus Cabinet voted to accept the Finance Ministry's proposal to end all coronavirus restrictions on businesses — except for the indoor mask mandate — effective June 1. These measures include mandatory social distancing and a capacity limit for elevators, professional gatherings and eateries.
In an interview with Ynet, Dr. Sharon Elroy-Preis, the Health Ministry's Head of Public Health, said that "herd immunity is a situation where people act normally and do not transmit the pathogen to one another."
"It is true we lifted more and more restrictions and eventually we will return to normalcy and without face masks, but only then will we know whether the virus is really incapable of transmitting from one person to another," she added.
Elroy-Preis noted that at least a third of Israelis have yet to get vaccinated against the virus or recover from it and are not protected from the illness, further demonstrating the country was still far from herd immunity.
However, she said that there might be a significant amount of people who were sick with the virus and did not know about it.
Elroy-Preis also said she believed it was still unsafe for Israelis to travel abroad this year.
"You cannot know what will happen," she said. "Infection rates in some places around the world are still very high. The number of countries with low coronavirus morbidity is still very minimal and the situation globally is very far from Israel's."
Elroy-Preis said that more and more countries will become safe for travel as countries continued to roll out the vaccine around the world, but it is difficult to predict what will be the situation in various destinations in the coming months.
"Look at what is going on in the UK, they have a high inoculation rate but still have infection outbreaks among the unvaccinated due to the Indian strain. COVID variants can turn everything on its head," she said.
The public health chief said that the Health Ministry is not mulling restrictions on leaving or entering Israel anytime soon.
"A 10-day quarantine period with two mandatory tests is crucial," she insisted. "Fifty percent of confirmed cases that return from abroad are detected on the day they land and the other 50% ten days after. Quarantine has a purpose — detecting morbidity."
Elroy-Preis said that Health Ministry officials are scheduled to meet in the coming week to discuss whether to expand the country's vaccination drive to include adolescents between the ages of 12–15.
"I think this is a choice for the parents to make for their child, and the role of the Health Ministry is merely to provide the necessary information to make such a decision," she said, stressing the complexity of the issue.
"On one hand, infection rates in Israel are very low, but the disease is still raging around the world and we are not barring entry — therefore children are still at risk," she said.