Israel to Downsize COVID-fighting Measures in Light of Low Infection Rate

Israel's Health Ministry says COVID-related services, such as testing sites and labs, will be scaled down, but can be reactivated if virus spikes

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
COVID testing in Tel Aviv, in April.
COVID testing in Tel Aviv, in April.Credit: Moti Milrod
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Israel is currently reducing its COVID-fighting measures due to low coronavirus infection and hospitalization rates, the Health Ministry said Sunday.

The ministry, which has dubbed the downsizing project “between the waves,” says COVID-related services will be scaled down, including testing sites, labs that identify the virus, and tracking mechanisms used to break the chain of infection.

According to the ministry, the changes will not affect the public. “This is a plan involving mainly the system’s resources,” a senior official said. "Testing policies will remain in place, as will the rest of the services related to the pandemic. But the current situation allows us to lower the flame and reduce activities, some of which started to shrink naturally due to low demand for tests.”

The official said that while services will continue to work on a limited basis, the ministry can expand them quickly in case of a renewed outbreak and the rise of a new variant. He added that the ministry is now analyzing the fifth wave and trying to improve readiness for the outbreak of the sixth wave. “We are improving from wave to wave,” he said.

Dizengoff center after Israel lifted its indoor mask mandate, last week.

The official said: “So far we have dealt with variants that were either more virulent and less infectious, or more infectious and less virulent. Now the scenario we are preparing for is a situation in which variants appear that are both more virulent in terms of illness and death and more infectious, like the variants in the omicron family.

Last week, Israel detected two omicron variants, BA.4 and BA.5, while testing people returning from abroad at Ben-Gurion Airport. The World Health Organization announced last month that it had begun to monitor these two variants after people in Africa and Europe began to test positive for them. These variants include other mutations than the better known omicron variants, and WHO is monitoring them to learn whether vaccination is effective against them or whether they cause recurring illness.

Despite the discovery of the new variants, the Israeli official said there is “no reason in the current situation not to move to a calmer situation of between the waves.”

In addition, the Health Ministry is also considering changing the testing policy at the airport due to the decline in infections, but it has been decided at this point to leave it in place until more data is gathered.

About a week ago, the mask rule in enclosed spaces was lifted in Israel in light of the decline in infections. The Health Ministry has retained the rule for places where the risk of infection is high, such as hospitals, care homes and aircraft. People on their way to isolation are also required to wear a mask.

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