Israel may be experiencing the beginning of a “new wave” of coronavirus infections, the Health Ministry’s director-general warned over the weekend, but reassured the public that new restrictions are not being considered at this time.
“We're careful with terminology because we had something like this a month or so ago – there was an increase, and it went down very quickly. This time is actually different, and there is a new variant, the BA-5 [variant] which is more contagious,” Prof. Nachman Ash told radio 103FM on Sunday morning.
“I think that it’s possible to start calling this a new wave,” he said, adding that while infection rates have risen, mortality has not. “I hope that, like during the omicron wave, we can get through this without special restrictions.”
Ash reiterated the ministry’s call from earlier this month for at-risk populations to resume wearing masks in enclosed spaces. This comes as new infections, hospitalizations and the R number – which represents the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – have all been trending upwards since late March and rose to 1.3 as of June 8. An R number over one indicates that the virus is spreading.
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According to the Health Ministry, 4,931 new infections were reported on Saturday. The number of serious cases stands at 158, with 37 people on ventilators.
As of last week, the BA.5 variant accounted for 70 percent of infections in Israel, and the BA2.12.1 strain constituted up to 12 percent of infections. As far as is known, these two variants are 15-25 percent more contagious than the BA.2 variant.
New daily cases peaked at over 15,000 in late March, dropping to less than 2,000 in late May, before beginning to rise again over the past several weeks.
After cases peaked earlier this year, Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, director of the School of Public Health at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Be’er Sheva, warned that “the whole discussion of waves can be counterproductive – because COVID is here to stay, and we don’t need to wait for waves to take precautions.”
Rather than speaking about waves, it would be more useful to speak about variants, he told Haaretz at the time, because each variant has its own transmission characteristics and patterns.
“We need to remember that more variants are expected, thus strengthening continuous surveillance and increasing vaccinations is crucial,” Davidovitch said.
Ido Efrati contributed to this report.