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Israel is poised to begin administering the fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for medical personnel and people aged 60 and above in a bid to curb the spread of Omicron infections in the country, the Prime Minister's Office said on Wednesday. The announcement comes after a top panel of medical experts had recommended on Tuesday to begin administering the fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Those eligible for the fourth dose can administer only if four months have passed since the third dose, the panel said.
Most of the vaccinated in Israel has received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett welcomed the decision, terming it "wonderful news that will assist us in getting through the Omicron wave that is engulfing the world".
"The State of Israel is continuing to stand at the forefront of the global efforts to deal with the pandemic. The citizens of Israel were the first in the world to receive the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and we are continuing to pioneer with the fourth dose as well", Prime Minister Bennett said in a statement.
"I call on everyone who meets the criteria that the members of the committee have set: Go and get vaccinated. Take responsibility for the health and livelihoods of all of us. The vaccines save lives," he explained.
The decision by the Health Ministry panel is pending the approval of the Ministry's director-general. The nod is likely in a few days when the Ministry releases clearer guidelines on a fourth shot. Israel has reported a total of 341 cases of the Omicron variant, and one death so far.
The country has reported around 1.36 million COVID-19 cases and 8,232 coronavirus-related deaths, according to the Health Ministry.
The ministerial committee formed to fight the coronavirus, also known as the Corona Cabinet, convened on Tuesday to discuss the continued handling of the Omicron strain.
Updated national and global morbidity data was presented by Health Ministry professionals during the meeting and an action plan was chalked out to deal with the rising cases, an official release said.
Israel was one of the first countries to vaccinate its population of over nine million early this year and then carried out the world's first booster campaign over the summer.
Corona Cabinet In Action
On Tuesday, Israel's COVID cabinet also approved a slew of measures, mostly targeting crowd sizes in shopping centres, in a bid to check the spread of the omicron variant.
Shoppers will be restricted to one customer per 15 square metres and be required to show proof of full vaccination for entry into stores.
A Green Pass scheme, which allows entry to public venues only to fully vaccinated citizens, will be imposed on shops that are bigger than 100 square metres.
Mall food stalls will provide service to Green Pass customers only, and indoor dining is likely to be banned, according to the latest directives.
Places that provide essential services will be exempt from Green Pass requirements, however, even as currently limited occupancy measures will continue to be imposed.
The Government has also approved a proposal to limit the physical presence of employees to 50% in the public sector.
Mr Bennett said at the start of the Cabinet meeting that coronavirus infections in Israel are expected to double every three days due to Omicron.
"The public should be aware that a dramatic increase in infection is expected," the Israeli Prime Minister said, adding that according to his estimate, "it will come very quickly".
Local media reports said that some of the ministers argued over the seriousness of the omicron variant, claiming that though it is contagious it doesn't lead to severe cases or deaths.
On Monday, Israel banned international travel to the U.S. for the first time over fears of the Omicron variant, by adding it to the list of 'red countries'.
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