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Businesses Set To Offer Rapid Virus Tests To The Unvaccinated

Health officials agreed Sunday on a plan to start offering rapid coronavirus tests as part of the Green Pass system beginning March 21, the Health Ministry said Sunday.

The rapid test option produces results in minutes and will allow businesses, restaurants, and cultural other venues to admit non-vaccinated people. In the case of a positive result, people would be denied entry and would need to take another, state-funded test for the virus.

As Israel has seen its third national coronavirus lockdown eased, most businesses and activities have become available to holders of the Green Pass, which indicates they are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19. The unvaccinated have so far not been allowed to participate in Green Pass activities. Children aged under 16 are generally not eligible for vaccination, and thus have been barred from Green Pass activities.

In its statement Sunday, the Health Ministry said, “Entry to Green Pass activities will be allowed for the vaccinated, those who have recovered from the virus, and people who present a negative test from a rapid test taken on the spot only. [Entry via] the presentation of a regular PCR test will not be allowed.”

Israel’s coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash, during a visit to the Jerusalem Municipality on November 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The financing of the rapid tests has been a contentious issue, with the government reluctant to fund them, fearing that could discourage people from getting vaccinated. However, the Health Ministry announced that it was working with the finance and economy ministries to find a solution that would keep rapid test prices at a reasonable level.

Meanwhile, Ash at a press briefing Sunday told the media that he believes there will not be a need for more COVID-19 restrictions over the upcoming Passover holiday.

“We had concerns with the quick reopening process, but we’re in a trend of declining morbidity,” Ash said, “[Passover celebrations in homes] should be kept under the existing limitations for gatherings; events at hotels [should be held] under Green Pass [rules] with the option of [coronavirus] tests for children.”

According to Health Ministry statistics, Israel has been seeing rapid declines in the number of serious COVID-19 cases, the number of daily new cases, the share of daily positive coronavirus tests and the basic reproduction number.

As of Sunday evening, Israel had 27,974 active cases of the coronavirus, with 640 people in serious condition. The death toll surpassed 6,000 and was at 6,008. The country’s vaccination campaign has so far seen about 5.1 million citizens receive at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, with about 4.1 million also receiving the second. Israel has a population of about 9.3 million people.

Israelis enjoy dancing at the ‘Teder’ nightclub in Tel Aviv, on March 31, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)

Nightclubs to reopen

Health Minister Edelstein also announced Sunday that nightclubs will be allowed to open as part of the next step in the country’s lifting of the lockdown. The decision is expected to come into effect next week, with clubs operating based on the Green Pass system.

“With this kind of morbidity rate, it’s time to allow the opening of clubs as well. I hope they fully take care to abide by the Green Pass [regulations] and the guidelines produced by the Health Ministry,” he said.

The Israeli Bar and Nightclub Association thanked Edelstein for the decision: “We thank the health minister and his ministry who answered our call, understood the wrong that the [bar and nightclub] sector has experienced and opened the nightclubs. We call on bar and nightclub owners and on [the customers] to keep to the guidelines and to go and get vaccinated.”

The association said there are about 100,000 Israelis who, in regular times, work in about 3,500 different bars and nightclubs. Nightclubs in Israel have been shut down since the first national lockdown, unlike bars, which were opened for a limited period after the first lockdown was eased. As part of the gradual exit from the country’s third lockdown, restaurants and bars were reopened for sitting customers on March 7.

This article first appeared in The Times of Israel, an Israeli based online newspaper.