Daily COVID Infections in Israel Top 1,000, Serious Cases Climb

The delta variant drives another four-month peak in daily infections, as Israel's COVID czar says Knesset to vote on reinstating vaccine passports for event halls

Shoppers in Jerusalem's Mahaneh Yehuda, yesterday.
Shoppers in Jerusalem's Mahaneh Yehuda, yesterday. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Israel's daily COVID infections reached four figures for the first time since March on Saturday evening, as the Health Ministry reported a hike in serious cases after almost a week of stabilization.

According to ministry data, 1,118 people were diagnosed with COVID on Friday, with 855 diagnosed the day before.

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There are also 58 patients in serious condition – an increase of eight since midnight. Of those, 17 people are in critical condition and 16 are on ventilators.

As the delta variant continues to make headway, there are currently 6,563 active coronavirus cases in Israel. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 6,446 Israelis have died of COVID.

In light of the increase in infections, Israel's coronavirus czar Nachman Ash told Channel 12 News on Saturday night that the Knesset is to vote on reinstating vaccine passports for event halls starting on Wednesday.

The Green Pass, recently renamed the "Happy Pass," was rolled out in February, and was no longer required in most public spaces by June. It allowed those who had received two jabs to access public spaces such as houses of worship, cultural events, fitness and dance studios, restaurants and bars, hotels, gyms and swimming pools. Ash said that for the time being, it will limit entry only to event halls rather than to all public spaces, and it seems the measure will pass in the Knesset.

Ash added that over half a million Israelis aged 16 and up have not been vaccinated, and that it is likely that doses will expire rather than be used. "They come from a population that perhaps thinks [the virus] doesn't threaten them as much and are maybe a bit afraid of it, it's not anti-vaxxers," Ash explained. He said that although nothing is guaranteed, the country does not want to institute a lockdown, nor is it planning to do so.

In an interministerial meeting convened Friday by Prime Minster Naftali Bennett's Office, representatives of various ministries agreed to increase rapid testing, "making them accessible to everybody," according to a brief statement from Bennett's office. Bennett has ordered that four types of rapid test kits approved by the Ministry of Health be approved for use by Tuesday.

Other measures agreed upon by government officials, as delta variant spreads across the world, include "aggressive enforcement" of COVID regulations and "preparations" for the next school year, as well as further examination of entry guidelines at Israel's main international airport.

As of Friday, all passengers arriving in Israel must quarantine for 24 hours or until they receive a negative COVID-19 test result. In addition, arrivals from the United Kingdom, Cyprus, Turkey, Georgia, Uganda, Myanmar, Fiji, Panama, Cambodia, Kenya and Liberia will be required to quarantine for seven days.

Moreover, Israel's Health Ministry issued a travel ban to Spain and Kyrgyzstan, which will come into effect next Friday, and added further countries to the list requiring a seven-day quarantine from next week. These countries include Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Namibia, Paraguay, Seychelles, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

On Friday, the Israeli military also reported that 135 people in its workforce are suffering mild coronavirus symptoms and 535 are isolating at home.

While over the past month new daily cases have spiked, the daily increase in infections is still lower than the Health Ministry's forecast from roughly two weeks ago, which anticipated that Israel would face 600 new coronavirus cases a day within a week, and 1,000 a day in 10 days.

The delta variant of the virus, which originated in India, is more than twice as contagious as the initial strain and has become the dominant strain of the virus in Israel.

The Israeli government announced Thursday a proposal that would let residents who have vaccinated against COVID-19, have recovered, or have received a recent negative test result, to attend large indoor events.

Speaking in a press conference, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Wednesday that Israel can beat the delta variant within five weeks.

Bennett said that his government seeks to avoid the mass lockdowns that characterized the country's handling of the three previous coronavirus outbreaks under his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu. Instead, he said, Israel will opt for a policy revolving around promoting mask wearing, expanding vaccinations and encouraging social distancing.

"We have two options: the first option is to remain indifferent, say that it's the government's problem and then cases will spike, and we'll have to instate a lockdown; the other option is that each of us takes responsibility, and then we can end this whole business in five weeks," Bennett said.

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