COVID in Israel: Infection Rate Reaches Four-month Peak

Although Israel's R number further climbs and daily COVID infections are at a two-month high, serious cases have dropped since omicron established a foothold in the country

People visiting Carmel market in Tel Aviv in October.
People visiting Carmel market in Tel Aviv in October.Credit: Hadas Parush

Israel's rate of infection hit its highest point since August on Thursday, though serious cases still remain low, Health Ministry data shows.

The R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – reached 1.34, the highest figure since the beginning of August. New daily cases also rose to 1,400 on Thursday, the highest since mid-October.

Both figures have been climbing since the start of December. Despite the faster spread, the number of serious cases in Israel has remained stable.

On Thursday, the Health Ministry reported 83 seriously ill patients, 39 of whom are on ventilators. The number has actually fallen since the start of the month, when it stood consistently in the triple digits.

Meanwhile, the ministry also presented new data on infections among children by locality: About 81 percent of Tel Aviv's positive tests were among children. In Haifa, children make up 57 percent of cases, while the figure stands at 39 percent in Jerusalem.

People visit a shopping mall in central Israeli city of Modiin.Credit: GIL COHEN-MAGEN - AFP

In the central Israeli town of Hadera, children from three preschools were sent into isolation after a teaching assistant was diagnosed with the virus. An outbreak at a local high school also resulted in one teacher and 13 students testing positive.

On Tuesday, Israel recorded 170 cases of omicron, doubling the total number of confirmed cases of the strain to 341. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, however, was presented with data indicating cases will reach thousands in the next two to four weeks.

On Thursday, Soroka Hospital in southern Israel said a man who was reported to have died from the variant, who would've been the country's first omicron casualty, was found to have the delta variant.

In an effort to contain the spread of omicron, the government expanded its list of banned high-risk travel destinations. Israelis are largely forbidden from visiting vast swaths of Africa, Europe and North America.

The second prong of Israel's approach is the rollout of a fourth jab for those aged 60 and over, health care workers and the immunocompromised, as well as the push to vaccinate the unprotected. Although a panel of experts has voted in favor of a fourth shot, it is still not known when Israel will begin to administer them.

Over 4.1 million people have received a booster shot in Israel, but an estimated 40 percent of the population still have low immunity against omicron, due to the low uptake among children and almost 1 million people refusing to receive the booster shot.

Earlier this week, Israel's COVID cabinet also approved a series of new measures, mostly targeting crowd sizes in shopping centers, in a bid to curb the spread of the omicron variant.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a nationwide address that "omicron is already in Israel and it is spreading fast... The fifth wave has begun," as cases of the variant continue to climb.

Since the pandemic struck Israel, 8,239 people have died from coronavirus, including seven in the last week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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