In Ten-week First, COVID in Israel Is No Longer Shrinking

Ido Efrati
Haaretz
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Passengers going for COVID tests after arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport last week when the country reopened to fully vaccinated visitors.
Passengers going for COVID tests after arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport in early November, when the country reopened to fully vaccinated visitors.Credit: JACK GUEZ - AFP
Ido Efrati
Haaretz

Health Ministry officials expressed concerns over Israel's rate of coronavirus infection, which reached a point on Friday in which the pandemic is spreading for the first time in ten weeks.

The R number, representing how many people each carrier infects, now stands at 1, meaning the virus' transmission is growing, after hovering at around 0.7 for almost three weeks. 

The Health Ministry's director-general, Prof. Nachman Ash, said the rise stems from "a combination of reasons": the million people who have not yet received the booster and the waning efficacy of those who received it earlier on, relaxed observance of guidelines from the public, the transition to indoor spaces as winter arrives, and the spread of the virus among children, who make up 60 percent of new infections.

The Health Ministry hopes that the imminent campaign to vaccinate children aged five to 11 will halt the sudden increase in its tracks, and may even encourage the 670,000 unvaccinated adults who are eligible for the jab to reconsider.

On Friday Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the campaign for ages five to 11 is due to start on Tuesday. Bennett acknowledged the apprehension surrounding vaccinations for children and said that the government plans to be "totally transparent" with the information they have in order to let parents make the decision on their own. 

Bennett stressed the importance of vaccinations for children and warned about the detrimental effects of 'long COVID', saying "it can stay with the children for many years and simply ruin their future."

Serious COVID cases decline 

Despite the rise in the infection rate, Israel country recorded 126 seriously ill patients on Friday, the lowest since July. Eighty-seven of them are on ventilators, and just 15 of them are fully inoculated.  

Israel's successful booster shot campaign, reaching over 4 million people, has driven the fourth wave into retreat. 

As a result, Israel has started to lift further restrictions. On Tuesday, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said the country will be able to present an antigen test instead of a PCR test when arriving from abroad.

Meanwhile, an agreement struck between the health minister and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz will lift restrictions on gatherings in open spaces, and eliminate the mask mandate in events with over 100 people.

The plan is still pending cabinet approval, but the Health Ministry believes that some eased restrictions may need to be rolled back, especially given the time lag until the full effects of the vaccine drive are felt.

Since the outset of the pandemic, 8,154 people in the country have died from COVID. No new deaths have been recorded since Wednesday. 

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