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Israeli parliament to consider extending special powers surrounding COVID pandemic

Extension of law till February 2024 would give government the ability to make emergency decisions to avert public health risks

Israelis protesting the proposed ‘Special Powers’ COVID law outside the Knesset building in Jerusalem, Nov. 22, 2021 (Photo: ALL ISRAEL NEWS)

The Knesset is set to vote on whether to extend the Special Powers law that was enacted at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, citing concern about the rapid spread of the virus in China and the emergence of new variants. 

If approved, the renewal of the special powers will extend their validity until Feb. 15, 2024. The law – which has passed each time with little objection – enables the governing coalition to “take action in order to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and damage to public health” without approval by the full Knesset.

“In view of the data and trends of the worldwide incidence of the virus, it is proposed to amend … the law and extend validity of the corona law for another year,” the legislation reads. 

The legislation cites World Health Organization data of 649 million confirmed cases and possibly more than the recorded 6.6 million deaths as of December. In Israel, 4,751,119 cases of the disease were diagnosed and 11,973 people are recorded as having died of COVID during the pandemic.

Since March 2020, Israel has experienced five significant waves of morbidity, the last one caused by theOmicron strain starting just over a year ago. 

“Stabilization in the level of morbidity and mortality was achieved mainly thanks to the high level of protection of the population, thanks to both vaccination and to the extent of recovery,” the legislation explains.

However, Ministry of Health professionals contend that “uncertainty” and recent developments in China necessitate maintaining this legal infrastructure.

“Many countries in the world have already started taking steps, starting with increasing screening efforts,” requiring passengers from China to provide a negative COVID test and some nations that require proof of vaccination for foreigners, such as the U.S.

The legislation expresses concern that China’s “lack of transparency and reporting regarding morbidity and the situation of variants” warrants caution since the pandemic originally began in China and “in a short time led to a global pandemic.” This “sharpens the potential the possible spread once again poses a challenge to maintaining readiness and the ability to respond quickly should such a scenario materialize.”

Experts are also concerned by Omicron’s eventual mutation into more infectious strains that also may supersede “the immune memory of both the vaccinated and recovered” while anti-virals are becoming less effective, the proposed law says.

Another purpose of the law is to be able to control cases of Long Covid syndrome, which could potentially burden the health system.

The law was first enacted for a period of 45 days and has been extended nine times since 2020. Last March that status was changed from a state of emergency to a more specific health emergency.

Israeli citizens have until midnight on Wednesday to register their comments on the proposed extension. During the height of the pandemic, thousands of Israelis protested against the law.

Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS

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