The coronavirus is expanding again in Israel, figures released Saturday by the Health Ministry show. The R number, representing the average number of people each confirmed carrier of the virus goes on to infect, now stands at 1.02, after about two months during which it has remained below 1.
The pandemic is in decline as long as the infection rate, which has been steadily rising since mid-February, is less than 1. The R number, or infection coefficient, is based on statistics from 10 days earlier.
The Health Ministry said in a statement that similar trends have been observed over the past days in other countries too. It has urged Israelis to keep wearing masks and maintain physical distancing, even as nearly all COVID-related restrictions have already been lifted.
The infection coefficient peaked in late December and stood at 2.12 last month, before dropping to a low of 0.66 as COVID cases began declining after the omicron wave.
A military intelligence report released on Thursday suggests three possible reasons for the rise: more cases of the highly infectious BA.2 variant, which has overtaken omicron as the dominant one in Israel; reduced immunity among vaccinated people, and the lifting of some restrictions. The report also notes that Israelis are no longer abiding by mask mandates as before.
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Dr. Hagai Levine, chairman of the Association of Public Health Physicians, cautioned: "Unfortunately, the lessons of the previous wave haven't been fully internalized. There are actions that can be taken in order to plan better should infections increase significantly, the first one being reinforcing health services in the periphery via schools, in neighborhoods and via municipalities."
According to the Health Ministry figures, 7,081 new COVID cases were confirmed in Israel on Friday, bringing the total number of active cases to 43,454. Out of those, 326 are in serious condition.