New COVID Cases in Israel Triple Within Days, Infection Rate Hits Six-month High

Hebrew University researchers predict the rapid spread of omicron would lead to as many as 20,000 new cases a day next week

Health care worker prepares a dose of the COVID vaccine in Jerusalem
Health care worker prepares a dose of the COVID vaccine in JerusalemCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Coronavirus cases in Israel have tripled over the past week, from 1,806 on Sunday – the highest figure since mid-October – to 5,466 new cases confirmed on Friday.

According to the latest figures released by the Health Ministry on Saturday, there are currently 29,959 active COVID cases in Israel.

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As the fifth wave, fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant, continues to spread through the country, the R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – is on a steady climb reaching 1.76 – the highest it's been since June.

Any number above 1 means the pandemic is spreading. The R number is calculated for 10 days earlier, meaning the current figure reflects the situation as of Tuesday of last week.

Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem warned in a report released on Saturday that the rapid spread of the omicron variant is expected to lead to at least 20,000 new daily cases next week.

That figure would keep rising through the second week of January, they predict. The researchers expect a rise in serious cases among older unvaccinated Israelis in the second half of January.

Serious cases are also on the rise, but at a much slower rate than that of confirmed cases, continuing a trend that suggest that the omicron variant doesn't cause severe illness. According to official figures, 185 COVID patients are currently hospitalized, with 101 of them in serious or critical condition.

This week Israel became the first country to give a green light for a fourth COVID shot of the Pfizer vaccine for people with weakened immune systems on Thursday, but a final decision on wider usage is still pending.

On Friday approval came through to begin administering second booster shots for elderly people in care homes, geriatric wards and in assisted living facilities.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz explained the decision came following high rates of infection in these institutions, which could pose a serious threat to the vulnerable population.

Also this week, Israel lifted its travel ban on most African countries and some destinations in Europe. The United States and 13 other countries with high coronavirus infection rates will remain on Israel's list of "red" destinations.

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