Israel logged 3,947 new coronavirus cases Thursday, the highest number since September, as recent data by the Health Ministry showed the country's COVID infections are rising by most metrics.
The number of new coronavirus cases has more than doubled in the past three days. On Sunday, Israel recorded 1,805 new infections.
The R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – also rose Thursday to 1.61, after climbing over the last few days, according to data released by the Health Ministry on Wednesday.
Any R number over 1 means the pandemic is spreading. The last time it indicated COVID was shrinking in Israel was more than a month ago.
As of Thursday morning, there are 96 COVID patients in serious condition, a number that has been steadily increasing since December 22. Out of these 96, 46 are in serious condition and 38 are on ventilators. Unvaccinated Israelis represent 31 percent of the population eligible for a vaccine, but they now constitute 78 percent of all serious cases.
From Wednesday night, vaccinated or recovered individuals who were exposed to COVID – without distinction between variants – will be able to take a rapid antigen test to be exempt from quarantine.
The policy shortens quarantine time for those infected with the omicron variant who have until now been made to enter a 14-day quarantine.
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The decision to discontinue distinguishing between variants was made following data showing that the omicron variant is set to become dominant in Israel within a few days. According to estimates, 90 percent of new cases will be omicron infections in less than two weeks.
On Thursday, the head of the Israeli army's coronavirus task force warned that Israel's healthcare system will "collapse" as omicron spreads across the country.
In addition, Israel's Health Ministry directed hospitals this week to prepare for a spike in the number of children in their COVID wards, due to omicron's rapid spread.
Over the past few days, about one third of those who tested positive for the virus – about 1,300 cases – are children. In Israel there are currently more than 2 million children aged 0 to 18 years. Of these, 730,000 are under 5 years old, and are therefore ineligible for inoculation. This leaves them particularly vulnerable, and even a fraction of a percentage of risk of hospitalization may greatly increase their presence in COVID wards in the event of a mass infection.