Israel's serious coronavirus cases have doubled within a week and now stand at 219, Health Ministry data showed on Monday, as the omicron variant spreads across the country.
As serious cases continue to rise, the discrepancy between vaccinated and unvaccinated patients becomes more evident. According to Health Ministry data, 14 percent of Israelis over 20 are unvaccinated, and they account for 45 percent of serious cases.
The R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – continues to climb and now stands at 1.95. Among people aged 60 and older, the R number climbed to 2.11.
The R number is calculated from data from the previous 10 days, and any number above 1 indicates that the virus is actively spreading.
Salman Zarka, the country's coronavirus czar, said that the number of cases is steadily rising and has yet to peak, but added that "we have the ability to protect ourselves and to get through the coming time period – three to five weeks, I hope."
He also said that the Health Ministry does not have a policy of attaining herd immunity through mass infection and is therefore making tests accessible. "We have no information about the significance of infection over the long term," he said. "For that, we need time."
The Health Ministry reported 21,501 new confirmed cases on Monday. Of these, 2,393 have already recovered from COVID. However, due to the recent shift to antigen tests, this number may not represent the true number of new cases.
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According to Monday's figures, 50 more serious patients were recorded the previous day. There are currently 57 patients on ventilators, as well as 34 children hospitalized.
On Sunday, 200,341 PCR tests were conducted, a drop of 30,760 compared to Monday last week.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry said that people self-testing for COVID should swab their throat as well as their nose when using rapid antigen kits to increase the chances of detecting the omicron variant.
Sharon Alroy-Preis, Israel's public health chief, said that people exposed to a carrier should take more than one test or at least wait three days since exposure before testing with rapid kits.
The Health Ministry later issued a clarification, saying that "there is no instruction to self-isolate during these three days," but rather to "take personal responsibility by wearing masks, maintaining social distance, avoiding crowds."
The ministry added that those "showing any symptoms should get tested immediately."
As of Monday at midnight, patrons will no longer need to present proof of vaccination in order to enter large stores in malls, according to the new regulations approved by the cabinet on Sunday.
However, shopping centers will operate according to stricter “Purple Badge” regulations; entrance to malls and indoor shopping centers will be allowed based on occupancy of one person per every 15 square meters. This restriction will apply to stores that are 100 square meters or more. For smaller stores, entrance will be allowed to one person per 7 square meters or up to four customers total, whichever metric allows more customers in a given store.