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Israel tightens restrictions as virus cases leap

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New restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of Covid took effect in Israel on Wednesday, after the largely vaccinated country saw the highest daily infection rate since January.

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The measures, announced Sunday, require vaccination certificates or negative coronavirus tests to enter a range of public spaces, including restaurants and bars, cultural and sports venues, hotels and gyms, the health ministry said.

The same applies to worshippers wishing to enter synagogues, mosques or churches with more than 50 people in attendance.

In addition, the capacity of stores, shopping malls and industrial parks will be limited to one person per seven square metres (75 square feet).

After its launch last December, Israel’s widely praised vaccination drive helped to drastically bring down infections.

According to the health ministry, 58 percent of Israel’s roughly 9.3 million residents have received two shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

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But infections are surging again, driven by the spread of the more contagious Delta variant of the virus, with restrictions that were lifted in June reimposed since July.

According to the health ministry, more than 8,700 people tested positive for coronavirus on Tuesday, the highest number for a single day since January.

In recent weeks, the state has begun administering booster shots to Israelis aged 50 and over, while urging the vaccination of children as young as 12.

About one million Israelis have not been vaccinated even though they are eligible.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has been imploring Israelis to get vaccinated, warning of a possible lockdown that could affect the Jewish high holidays next month unless inoculation numbers rise.

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Appearing before an Israeli parliamentary committee on Wednesday, coronavirus response coordinator Salman Zarka said the lead-up to the start of the Jewish New Year on September 6 would be “critical.”

If things don’t improve, “we will get a lockdown like the first and second ones, where we don’t go further than 100 metres (yards) from our homes,” he told lawmakers, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Cases are also rising among Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip.

Official figures show that infection rates have risen seven fold since August 1, with several hundred cases a day reported in recent days after weeks of two-digit tallies.

The Palestinian health ministry official in charge of hospitals, Naji Nazzal, blamed the surge and the rising number of hospitalisations on the Delta variant, the official Wafa news agency reported.

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