Top Israeli Health Official Says 'Pandemic Still With Us,' as Serious COVID Cases Set New Record

Israel recorded an all-time high of 1,263 seriously ill COVID patients on Sunday, but new infections and spread continue to drop

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Medical staffer at a COVID ward in a Jerusalem hospital on Thursday
Medical staffer at a COVID ward in a Jerusalem hospital on ThursdayCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Israel's omicron wave will take time to ebb away, the Health Ministry's director-general, Prof. Nachman Ash, warned on Sunday, as serious cases again reached an all-time high.

The number of severe COVID cases in Israel continued climbing to another record high of 1,263, per Health Ministry data Sunday, with 366 patients reported to be in critical condition. The figure marks a rise from 1,085 seriously ill COVID patients a week earlier.

"I hope we will begin to see a meaningful decrease in the number of severe cases, but it will take time," said Ash in an interview on Israel's Army Radio on Sunday.

“A decrease [in deaths] will come slowly." He added, “The pandemic is still with us and we are not at the end of anything, certainly not in the coming weeks.”

Deaths from COVID-19 over the past seven days decreased 5.4 percent to 299 from the prior seven-day period, but remained high compared to other waves of the pandemic.

Over the past month, unvaccinated or partially vaccinated patients over 60 – despite comprising only about 12 percent of Israelis in their age group – have accounted for 43 percent of over-60 COVID deaths.

In total, the number of deaths now comes to 9,139 since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

At the same time, the number of daily infections decreased again to 33,374, per Health Ministry data, down from 38,033 on Friday.

The R number, which tracks the average number of people passing the virus to others, also dipped again to 0.86, continuing the downward trend that has been in place since early January. Any R number below 1 indicates that the pandemic is shrinking.

In the interview, Ash also addressed morbidity from the BA.2 variant, which is similar to the omicron variant (BA.1).

"[BA.2] seems to be more contagious and there are areas where, because it is more contagious, it will slow down the decrease in deaths to an even greater extent," said Ash, who added that the impact of that variant will not be clear until the data comes in. "I hope that, since we've seen a lot of omicron infections, we won't feel [BA.2's] effects," he added.

Recent Health Ministry data shows that a third of all Israelis have contracted coronavirus at some point over the two years since the outbreak of the pandemic. More than 1.5 million of those cases have occurred over the past two months due to the omicron variant.

On Friday, the coronavirus cabinet dropped the requirement to present proof of vaccination for most venues. "High-risk events" such as weddings and parties will still require a certificate. The decision will go into effect on February 7, subject to approval from the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

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