West News Wire: Israel’s government advanced a raft of new Covid restrictions, including sweeping implementation of a digital vaccine passport and tighter restrictions on mass gatherings, as the country struggles with skyrocketing new infections.

The pass is issued to people who have received two vaccine doses or who have recovered from coronavirus. But unlike in the past, children who are not eligible to get vaccinated must have the pass, too.

The results of the fast tests come in 15 minutes, but they are only good for 24 hours and some parents have found themselves waiting in line for more than an hour and doing so for consecutive days since the requirement went into effect.

“If they make us do this every day, I’ll pull my hair out,” said Tamar Cohen, who waited with her husband and two young daughters. “It’s ridiculous. We can’t wait in line every day.”

The requirement is the latest – and the most draconian – move in the Israeli government’s battle against the Delta variant, which has hit Israel hard. The fast spread of the variant caught Israelis by surprise.

Israel was one of the first countries to vaccinate the majority of its population and by March most Israelis were already putting COVID-19 behind them.

By June the mandatory mask requirement was completely dropped and the only restrictions that remained concerned the entry and exit from the country. Now the rate of infection has risen to 5.4 percent and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has said he will take every action possible to lower the rate and avoid going to a fourth lockdown.

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Health experts say there are two main reasons the Delta variant hit Israel so hard. For one, Israelis were flouting the mask requirements, which were re-imposed at the end of June. Now police are handing out fines to those who do not wear a face covering.

The other reason given for the high rate of infection is that most Israelis were vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, which data shows is less effective than the Moderna jab against the virus.

“It’s true that Moderna has better protected people from infection, but the two vaccines are almost equivalent in effectiveness against severe disease,” said Professor Cyril Cohen, vice dean of life sciences at Bar Ilan university and a member of the health ministry’s coronavirus vaccine advisory board.

“This is important so that our hospitals won’t be overwhelmed.”

In addition to requiring testing for children and anyone not fully vaccinated, Israel will require all teachers to have a Green Pass to work. Israel has also imposed stricter guidelines regarding entry into the country.

Foreigners are not allowed to enter without receiving a special permit and taking numerous tests. Israelis are not allowed to fly to “red countries”, such as Spain, Brazil and Mexico without a permit from a special committee.

Those already in red countries, as well as Israelis in “orange” countries, such as the US, France and Germany, must go into quarantine upon return to Israel, even if they were vaccinated.

At least 6,580 Israelis have died from coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to Health Ministry figures.

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