Omicron Drives Israel's COVID Infections to New High, Serious Cases on the Rise

Over 16,000 new cases are diagnosed in Israel, more than double the number a few days earlier, though serious COVID cases are increasing at a slower late

Workers at a coronavirus testing site in Tel Aviv, Tuesday.
Workers at a coronavirus testing site in Tel Aviv, Tuesday.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Israel saw a record-breaking number of new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, reaching an all-time high of 16,115 – more than double the number of new cases recorded just a few days earlier on Sunday.

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Two 6-year-olds with serious underlying conditions died of the virus on Thursday.

With the highly contagious omicron variant causing a surge in infection, Israel recently approved second booster shots for the immunocompromised and people aged 60 and up.

The R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – has risen to 1.99, the highest since June.

The number of patients in serious condition has increased slightly to 134, only one more than the previous day but 37 more than a week ago, continuing a trend in which omicron is causing a much slower increase in serious cases than the delta variant. Of the 134 serious cases, 41 are on ventilators.

While 14 percent of Israelis aged 20 and over are unvaccinated, they make up 64 percent of serious cases. The data is more stark among the elderly, with the 7 percent of Israelis over 60 unvaccinated accounting for 46 percent of serious cases.

Two people died of the virus on Wednesday, bringing the total death toll to 8,253 since the pandemic struck the country in March 2020.

The past week saw a total of 61,080 new cases, an increase of 276 percent over the previous week. The increase in new serious cases was smaller over the same time period, at 65 percent. Meanwhile, seven people died of the virus, an increase of a little under 17 percent in the past week.

On Wednesday, the Health Ministry announced changes to its testing requirements amid a spike in demand for PCR swab tests. Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz announced that beginning on Friday, vaccinated, healthy Israelis under the age of 60 who have come into contact with coronavirus carriers can take a rapid home test to be exempt from isolation, thereby avoiding long lines at testing sites. According to the new guidelines, the ministry will reserve PCR tests for people aged 60 and older, as well as for high-risk groups.

This will mean that the Health Ministry's data on new infections will become less accurate from Friday, when the new regulations come into effect, with more people using antigen tests at home and fewer people reporting their results.

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