Head of Public Health Services in the Health Ministry Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis on Monday said she was concerned that new coronavirus variants could enter Israel through the Ben Gurion International Airport.
"We know the vaccines are effective against the British [coronavirus] variant but there is also the South African mutation against which the shots are less effective," Alroy-Preis said in a press conference. "We must make sure that variants do not enter the country."
The government on Sunday cleared flights from all destinations to land in Israel but still limited the number of arrivals to 3,000 per day.
The senior health official said that variants that could spread in the community could infect the country's unvaccinated population, including children, and also those who had gotten the vaccine, but their efficacy may have been compromised.
"We have a nationwide laboratory apparatus to carry out genetic sequencing because we want to be prepared. This is our greatest challenge," she said.
She said that there was no available information regarding the length of time vaccines will remain effective, telling reporters that the ministry will decide when and in what manner additional shots would be required as further data mounts.
"We can now have weddings and other events if they are held in accordance with health regulations. Green pass holders can participate safely, and those tested and found negative for the virus can do so as well," she said. "I hope that as of next week we will have quick tests, and there is no reason to hold weddings in violation of directives. We don't want weddings to end in funerals."
Alroy-Preis said there were still some virus hotspots across the country where vaccination rates remained low, especially in the Arab sector.
"We are trying to encourage more people to get their jabs. That is the way to reduce morbidity and ensure Ramadan would be celebrated safely next month," she said.
Schools remain a challenge for health professionals as Alroy-Preis stressed that students will continue learning in small groups, also known as "capsules."
"Only older students in the 11th and 12th grade can study in full classes because they had been vaccinated," she said, add that the ministry was preparing a plan that would allow more children into classrooms ahead of the next school year.
"I call on all Israelis over the age of 16 that have not yet received their coronavirus vaccines to get them. Because vaccines do not provide 100% efficacy, we must still use face masks and maintain social distancing. We are also lifting health restrictions in a gradual manner," she said
The health official also said that as of last Monday, Israel had administered the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to over Palestinian laborers holding permits to work in the country.
Responding to reports that Israel will allow arrivals from abroad to get vaccinated against the pathogen at the airport, she said that service will only be available to members of one of the country's healthcare providers in order to prevent vaccine tourism.