Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday urged older Israelis to get a fourth coronavirus shot in a nationwide address, after announcing the approval of a fourth shot for all adults aged 60 and over as well as medical staffers.
Bennett said that Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash approved the fourth vaccine rollout which was already available to patients living in geriatric facilities and elderly homes as well as to immunocompromised people.
Bennett further warned that the country is likely to see "as many as 50,000 new coronavirus cases" at the peak of Israel's fifth wave propelled by the highly infectious omicron variant.
"Our overarching goal remains the same: to enable an economy to function as much as possible while protecting the most vulnerable," Bennett said.
"The good news is that we have learned from the world that if you are vaccinated you are largely protected from serious illness," the prime minister added. "The wave is coming and there is no way to prevent it. Those who are vaccinated will be able to go on with their lives."
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As a result, the government has decided to waive quarantine for all vaccinated individuals aged 5 and over who test negative for the virus, Bennett said. Unvaccinated individuals exposed to the virus will be required to enter a minimum seven-day quarantine, even if they test negative.
"The toll on daily life is real," Bennett said while urging unvaccinated to get their coronavirus shot.
The government is further preparing to tighten testing criteria to reduce the strain that has crippled testing sites across the country, Bennett said earlier on Sunday after calling to limit the number of coronavirus tests and tighten the criteria for eligibility due to the limited capacity of testing centers in Israel.
On Sunday, Israelis reported heavy congestion at testing centers in the central Israeli cities of Bat Yam and Herzliya, with the queues for some official government testing centers taking hours.
Israel also recorded a spike in serious COVID cases, which rose to 110 from 94 a week prior. Seventy-eight percent of the seriously ill are unvaccinated, who account for 31 percent of the whole population.
The R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – also went up to its highest level since June –1.76 to 1.84. Any number above 1 means the pandemic is spreading.
In light of the fifth wave, the Health Ministry is considering adding 110 intensive care beds, which have not yet received the approval of the Finance Ministry. Hospitals are already dealing with a heavy load due to the seasonal flu which this year, unlike last year, is being felt.
As serious cases continue to rise, renewing anxieties over hospitals' ability to handle the continued influx of patients, the Health Ministry approved a new COVID drug on Sunday that was developed by Merck. The drug, molnupiravir, is an oral antiviral pill given to coronavirus patients during the onset of symptoms.