Against the backdrop of resurging COVID-19 morbidity and the launch of Israel's vaccine rollout for children aged 5–11, the coronavirus cabinet convened on Tuesday evening for the first time in almost two months and ruled to leave existing curbs on public gatherings in place for two more weeks.
At the opening of the meeting, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett asked his ministers to support the burgeoning vaccine push for children and refrain from making statements that could hamper the country's inoculation efforts.
"It is very important that we support this move. There's no pressure right now to start issuing incentives or implementing the Green Pass," the premier said, referring to a document that grants access to public venues for those who have either been fully inoculated against COVID-19 or have recently recovered from it. "We're only focusing on informing the public with maximum transparency right now."
Bennett also called on parents to test their children for coronavirus before they return to school from the Hanukkah break in early December.
Weizmann Institute of Science's Prof. Eran Segal, a scientist advising the government on its pandemic response, turned the panel's attention to the country's waning "total immunization" — a term which encompasses all citizens who have some protection against coronavirus, including Israelis who have recovered from the pathogen, those who have received two vaccine doses fewer than six months ago, or those inoculated with a vaccine booster shot.
Segal's findings indicate that Israel first began seeing a decline in total immunization in May, as the effects of the country's original vaccine rollout began fading. Immunity levels rose again with the launch of the booster shot drive and peaked after a few months, also owing to high rates of recovery from COVID-19. Immunization again began to ebb in early November.
Segal warned that unless more people get vaccinated, immunization levels are expected to continue to drop in the coming months.
He also attributed the rise in morbidity to increasingly lax enforcement of health measures as well as mounting coronavirus infections among children as well over half of Israel's recent new cases were recorded among children younger than 12.
Health Ministry's Director of Public Health Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis warned that although most children who contract coronavirus only end up developing mild symptoms, others become severely ill and some younger patients even die due to its complications.
"The Health Ministry monitors these cases, and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (PIMS) is a condition that could even affect healthy children. There is evidence that COVID is affecting the brain, and causes loss of taste and smell," she said.
Prime Minister Bennett added at the end that the state will not be able to reach many of those who choose to go unvaccinated, but forewarned that the country's relatively low number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients and those connected to ventilators could still turn on a dime.