Health experts are "very optimistic" that Israel's latest coronavirus wave is waning, and expect the number of patients hospitalized in serious cases to drop within the next two weeks, the country's COVID czar, Prof. Salman Zarka, said Monday.
The current outbreak – Israel's fourth wave of infection – is still not over, however, and the public must continue to abide by restrictions and get vaccinated, he warned in a media briefing. "We have already proven that without a third [vaccine] dose, people aren't protected if half a year after getting the second vaccine," he said. "We must be careful in order to prevent a fifth wave, or to delay it."
Fully lifting Green Pass restrictions, which require Israelis to present proof of vaccination in various situations, is off the table and they "will be part of our routine in the coming weeks or coming months, Zarka said."
The question is where we should cancel [the Green Pass] and where we should leave it. We allow restaurants to operate outdoors without a Green Pass, and we are considering the expansion of the Green Classroom pilot program to kindergartens," he added, referring to a program allowing students who were exposed to a coronavirus patient to attend in-person classes after being tested for the virus. "I think we learned from the previous wave that it's not a good idea to quickly exit the restrictions, especially when there is high infection in the rest of the world."
Zarka and his staff will be able to reach conclusions on the school pilot program next week, he said. "We will certainly want to expand it to additional classes and kindergartens," he said, noting that there is no shortage in home testing kits. "We purchased millions of kits and will distribute them to schools this week," he said. He further said that doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be provided to health maintenance organizations for use in those who developed side effects from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
A series of new measures relaxing COVID restrictions on outdoor activities went into effect Monday, as key metrics continued to suggest a decrease in infections. The Health Ministry's director-general, Prof. Nachman Ash, noted in an interview with Kan Bet public radio that the R number – the average number of people each confirmed carrier infects – has remained below 1 "for a considerable time at this point."
When the R number, or infection coefficient, is lower than 1, it means the pandemic is shrinking. Official figures put the current R number at 0.7, the lowest it's been in a month.
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According to the latest Health Ministry figures, Israel reported 1,457 new cases on Sunday, a slight increase from the day before.
Around 15 percent of eligible Israelis over the age of 12 are still unvaccinated, but represent more than 75 percent of the 447 patients in serious condition. As of Monday morning, 186 COVID patients are on ventilator.