One in Three Israelis Contracted COVID Since Pandemic Started

About 1.65 million Israelis have contracted COVID since the onset of the omicron wave, accounting for over half of the total coronavirus cases

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
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People wearing protection masks in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.
People wearing protection masks in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.Credit: Hadas Parush
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

Almost a third of all Israelis have contracted coronavirus at some time over the two years since the outbreak of the pandemic. And more than 1.5 million of those cases have occurred over the past two months – as the infectious omicron continues to spread throughout the country.

According to Health Ministry data, 3,049,005 Israelis – in a country with a population of roughly 9.4 million – have come down with COVID-19. Astoundingly, about 1.65 million of those cases have occurred in the six weeks since the beginning of the current omicron wave.

On January 20, Prof. Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute and a member of the Health Ministry's advisory panel on the pandemic, said Israel held “the world record” of confirmed cases per million people with about 0.6 percent of the population confirmed daily.

As of February 3, according to Our World in Data website, Israel dropped to the eighth spot in the country rankings of cases per capita, with 326,000 cases per million. That’s three spots higher than the United States, with 227,000 cases per million.

“We indeed have some of the highest infection rates, due to several factors: very high testing rates, low compliance with some measures, low vaccination rates among young people and [with] children with the decision to keep schools open,” said Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, director of the Health Systems Management Department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Israel's daily infection ranking per milllion people as of Jan. 20, 2022.

“On the other hand, Israeli mortality rates are lower than other countries,” he pointed out. Israel’s global ranking based on cases per population dropped, he said, thanks to a combination of less testing and the fact that the country has probably passed the peak of the current wave. And the R number – the average number of people that an infected individual will go onto infect – has also dropped, he noted. It is currently 0.91 and anything under 1 is an indication of declining case numbers.

In another piece of better news, Itamar Grotto, the former deputy director general of the Health Ministry, told Haaretz that between December 2020 – when Israel’s COVID vaccination program began – and November 2021, Israel ranked third in the number of deaths prevented, as a result of its vaccination campaign.

In explaining the protection afforded by the vaccine, Grotto said that between January 1, 2021 and January 19, 2022, 4,989 people died of COVID in Israel, but without vaccines 24,661 people would have died. Therefore, the vaccine prevented 19,672 deaths during the period.

But despite its much smaller population, Israel currently ranks 25th on the World Health Organization’s list of actual total cases per country, just behind Canada. Israel, with its population of roughly 9 million, has had 3,049,005 cases while Canada, which has a population of 38 million, has had 3,055,866 cases.

“The vaccine is effective against severe illness and death, but it’s not 100 percent bulletproof,” Prof. Hagai Levine, chairman of the Israel Association of Public Health Physicians, told Haaretz on Wednesday. It does not provide effective protection against infection with the omicron variant, he cautioned.

“Clearly, the infection rates are [skyrocketing]. According to estimates, the infection rate is actually much higher because you can’t test everyone,” he said.

The good news is that recent Health Ministry data shows declines in all metrics related to the current omicron wave, suggesting that it may be receding. That includes the R number of 0.91.

The number of new confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel was 60,329 on Tuesday, a drop of some 7,000 from Monday, but the case count rose slightly on Wednesday to 60,537.

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