Israeli Health Experts Recommend Indoor Masks, Stave Off Fifth COVID Shot

Bennett says no COVID-19 policy changes will be made after concluding a meeting with Health Ministry officials

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Haaretz
A woman wears a COVID protective mask in Tel Aviv mall.
A woman wears a COVID protective mask in Tel Aviv mall.Credit: Hadas Parush
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Haaretz

Israeli health experts on Wednesday recommended reinstating mask mandate indoors in the wake of rising COVID infections.

The Health Ministry pandemic taskforce refrained from recommending administrating a fifth vaccine shot and said an ongoing monitoring of the situation is needed.

“We are starting a new coronavirus wave of the variant BA.5 in Israel,” he said at the Medicine2042 conference, adding that “we are considering a fifth vaccine shot.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett decided not to make any COVID-19 policy changes after concluding a meeting with Health Ministry officials on the matter.

Responding to Zarka's statement, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz warned against using the term "wave" because the pandemic fluctuates by nature.

Horowitz said that the Health Ministry predicted this rise and that the health system is ready to handle the surge.

Bennett added that it was decided to bolster protection for the older population and to urge people at risk to once again wear masks indoors. Furthermore, monitoring the virus through the sewage system will continue.

The number of new confirmed cases rose Tuesday to 4,585 from 3,731 the previous day – the highest number since April 25.

Israel's infection rate known as the R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – has risen to 1.19. Any R number over 1 means the pandemic is spreading. The number of seriously ill patients is also on the rise.

Although the R-number has been above 1.0 since May 20, the virus is still spreading slowly. The hospitals are not feeling a burden, and the spread hasn’t hurt the economy.

Health officials also decided to revive a public information campaign on combatting the virus.

A senior Health Ministry official said on Tuesday that despite the significant rise in new cases, it is not clear yet whether there is cause for concern. “We keep seeing movement in the number of confirmed cases and the seriously ill,” the official said. “When the rise becomes more consistent we will need to treat it as a wave, but now it is still premature to talk about a wave.”

The senior official added that the number of daily confirmed cases and the R-number are influenced by the policy of voluntary testing. On the other hand, he said the number of serious patients “is indeed a more sensitive measure, and its rise concerns us.” He added, “We will need to track and see if it continues and becomes a real epidemic or recedes.”

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