Drop in Israel's COVID Infection Rates Comes to a Halt, Raising Concerns of Renewed Outbreak

New daily coronavirus cases were down to 3,500, only to jump up again, and the upcoming Purim holiday has health officials worried

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
A costume shop in Tel Aviv yesterday.
A costume shop in Tel Aviv yesterday.Credit: Hadas Parush
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Israel's decline in coronavirus infection rates in recent weeks is slowing as concerns mount ahead of the Purim holiday and two and a half weeks after the country exited its third lockdown.

The Health Ministry has recorded a rise in the COVID-19 infection rate known as the R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – from 0.83 to 0.9 in the past two days.

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If this slight uptick in the spread of infection continues at the same pace, within days the R factor will rise above 1 which would mean that the infection rate is increasing rather than slowing down.

After a decline in the spread of the disease in the past week to 3,500 new cases a day, that number jumped to 4,389 new cases on Tuesday, with 6.1% of 74,000 testing positive for the virus. The increase began about two weeks after preschools and lower grades reopened in areas where the rate of infection was lowest, and a few days after the second stage of reopening began with more children back in school and shops reopening.

The rise in the infection rate was expected following the lockdown exit, which raises exposure to the virus. The spread of the British and South African variants and that children under 16 aren’t yet vaccinated has refocused the attention of health professionals on the education system.

However, it appears that the source of the rise in infections is not the school system. The data points to a decline in the infection rate among those 18 and under, through children in this age group are still a significant factor in the spread of the virus.

Due to the high immunization rate among the adult population, the composition of those infected and critically ill has changed in recent weeks. Children and adolescents aged 0 to 19 constitute more than 43 percent of all new patients, and those aged 20 to 39 constitute 35 percent of them.

One of the current goals of the ongoing vaccination campaign is to inoculate more young people. The vaccination rate is 44 percent among those aged 16 to 18, 56 percent for those aged 20 to 29 and 64 percent among those aged 30 to 39, which is significantly lower than older demographics.

Arab communities have also contributed to the rise in the infection rate, as their rate of inoculation is significantly lower than that of the entire country as a whole. The R factor in Arab communities has already hit the 1 mark, and the number of infected is about 20 percent of the non-Arab and non-Haredi population. In the Haredi community the rate of inoculation among those 50 and over is 68 percent.

Despite restrictions and night curfews, Purim, which begins later this week, may prove to be a particularly volatile period. Health Ministry officials worry about seeing significant violations of coronavirus regulations, particularly among the haredim, whose parties may turn into large events involving mass alcohol-consumption.

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