On Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s cabinet voted to extend the controversial Green Pass mandate by one week despite expressed opposition from hospital officials.
The Green Pass program limits access to public venues and gatherings of more than 50 people for those who have not been fully vaccinated after receiving at least three vaccination shots. People who have recovered from COVID have natural immunity and are also eligible for the Green Pass if they also receive one dose of the vaccination.
The Health Ministry announced ten days ago that they were considering scrapping the mandate as it appeared to be “irrelevant” in the face of the Omicron variant of coronavirus. Another possibility was to issue a Green Pass to people who received the fourth shot despite health officials recommending not to get a fourth shot.
This comes after the policy of quarantines in the education system was canceled though teachers must still present a Green Pass before entering schools. Students and teachers are required to wear masks inside classrooms. These regulations will be extended until February 27.
Green Pass regulations applicable to employees of health and welfare institutions will be extended until Tuesday, March 1.
But the Health Ministry had asked for more time to evaluate data on how resilient people are to infection from Omicron after vaccination or having previously recovered from the virus.
Four experts representing hospitals at the forefront of coping with the pandemic expressed objections in interviews with Y-Net to extending the Green Passport mandate.
Prof. Cyrille Cohen, an expert on immunology from Bar-Ilan University, said that during the Omicron wave the Green Pass has become less effective.
“The purpose of the Green Pass was originally to try and create some sort of a safer environment for vaccinated people, especially for those who can get seriously ill. The Green Pass also encouraged people to get vaccinated, but at this time it is irrelevant since the Omicron variant infects both vaccinated and unvaccinated at a similar rate.
“Furthermore, if there is no real enforcement of the mandate, it loses its purpose, therefore it can be eased. However, people need to keep following the basic guidelines of the pandemic. Because during these times, in which hospitals are overburdened and the morbidity rate skyrocketing, every single thing we can do to prevent further deterioration of the situation can make a difference,” Cohen added.
Professor Doron Gazit from the Hebrew University, who is a member of the panel advising the government on the coronavirus pandemic, also thinks that the Green Pass should be scrapped. “There is no doubt that during the Omicron wave the Green Pass is not useful and possibly even causing harm because it gives the vaccinated people a feeling that they are safe, even though they are contagious and infectious just like the unvaccinated,” he said.
“We never collapsed in the two years [of pandemic]. The collapse was more psychological than physical. Did we collapse in terms of patient overload? No. I do not recall that happening to us,” said Prof. Yaakov Jerris, director of the COVID ward at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, known as Ichilov Hospital.
Ichilov is currently treating 120 coronavirus patients, of whom 90 are hospitalized in the internal medicine wards. “Defining a serious patient is problematic. For example, a patient with a chronic lung disease always had a low level of oxygen, and now he is with coronavirus, which technically makes him a serious coronavirus patient, but that’s not true. The patient is in a difficult condition because he has a serious underlying condition.”
Objections were also raised by Dr. Roi Ilan, director of the Intensive Care Unit at Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa.
“The reason for overload is not necessarily due to people who are seriously ill with coronavirus, but anyone who tested positive. The wrong calculation actually puts a lot of pressure on the system,” he said.
“A patient who is hospitalized in the coronavirus ward receives double the amount of nurses. Half of the staff inside are protected, caring for the patient, and the other half are waiting outside – ready to be replaced. It is a huge burden.”
Prof. Nimrod Maimon, the director of the Coronavirus Internal Medicine Department at Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva also noted that the situation in the hospitals did not justify continued restrictions.
“I remember I was in Lebanon, we would go inside, you go right into a war zone, the same thing is happening here inside the coronavirus wards, huge loads, and then you come out of the hospital and people around you are celebrating the end of the pandemic,” he said. “None of the people on the ground think the country should be shut down, I think we should live alongside the coronavirus just as the government has decided to do.”
“This wave is completely different from previous ones because Omicron is less severe on the one hand, but more contagious on the other, so everyone sitting here understands that another approach to Omicron should be proposed,” Prof. Maimon concluded.