Hundreds of Israelis demonstrated against vaccines and coronavirus restrictions in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on Saturday.
Positive cases and hospital admissions in Israel have risen to levels not seen in months, driven by the more contagious Delta variant.
On Saturday, the health ministry reported that 2,435 new Covid cases had been recorded the day before, the highest number since March.
There were 326 hospital admissions, the most since April. The figure falls well below the peak, in January, when more than 2,000 people were admitted as in-patients daily.
Protesters held banners that read: “There’s no pandemic, it’s a con”. Many had placards denouncing coronavirus vaccines. One poster linked vaccines to the Nazis.
Israel has in recent days rolled out a booster vaccine shot for older citizens, reimposed mask requirements indoors and restored “green pass” restrictions requiring vaccine certificates for entering enclosed spaces such as gyms, restaurants and hotels.
The rise in infections is a step back after Israel’s world-leading vaccine campaign drove down new Covid-19 cases from 10,000 a day to fewer than 100.
Last month, the Israeli government was cautiously optimistic its successful vaccination drive would save it from the deadly surge in cases seen earlier in the pandemic.
On Saturday, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz told Israeli Channel 12 TV he intended to balance public health with livelihoods.
“The economy must remain open,” he said.
“I don’t want to impose a lockdown and I will avoid a lockdown at all costs. Everything is open – but we need masks and we need vaccines.”
But about one million Israelis who are eligible for vaccines still refuse to be immunised.
The five million Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank are not part of Israel’s vaccination programme. The Israeli government has opted to vaccinate about 100,000 Palestinians who have Israeli work permits.
From Sunday, some children between ages 5 and 11 who are at risk of health complications will become eligible for vaccines.