Israel Doesn't Have a 'Herd Immunity' Policy, COVID Czar Says

Officials predict that within weeks one in four Israelis will be infected with COVID

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People waiting for rapid COVID tests in Jerusalem, on Monday.
People waiting for rapid COVID tests in Jerusalem, on Monday.Credit: Emil Salman

Israel does not have a policy of combatting the coronavirus through herd immunity, the country's coronavirus czar Prof. Salman Zarka said Monday. 

Speaking in a press conference, Zarka added that herd immunity "has no scientific basis, and I do not know if someone who is infected with omicron will be protected."

Zarka's comments came in the wake of predictions by senior Health Ministry officials that within weeks one in four Israelis will be infected with the virus, leading some to postulate that the country could achieve herd immunity.  

Zarka urged the public not to rely on herd immunity and instead to take precautions against infection, saying "we do not know enough about omicron, and what its future effects will be."

He also said that Israel is facing a combined wave of the delta and omicron variants, adding that "the peak of this wave is still ahead of us."   

Meanwhile, officials are predicting that by the end of this week the number of new COVID cases will surpass 10,000. “We’re talking about 30,000 and 40,000 new confirmed cases per day in a short time,” a senior Health Ministry official said.

Zarka noted that although the omicron variant is less severe than delta, the rapid rise in infections will result in many new cases in a short period of time.

"Hospitals are still getting patients infected with the delta variant, which is considered more virulent," he said. These are numbers we haven't seen until now," he said. 

He added that Israel can't prevent the spread of the virus, so the goal of the healthcare system is to reduce severe illness. "We are very concerned about a situation in which many patients require hospitalization in a short period of time. The healthcare system is very worried about this, especially in light of the increase in cases of the flu.

"The hope is that - as we are seeing in other parts of the world - that alongside the rapid increase there will also be a rapid decrease within a few weeks."

Noting the long lines at testing centers, Zarka said that the government is considering making antigen tests available at essential work places like the police and prison service. The Health Ministry is also putting together a plan to train and place 3,200 coronavirus testers in schools to conduct antigen and PCR tests on students, he said.  

Israel recorded the highest number of daily coronavirus cases in four months on Monday, with 6,562 new COVID cases. This marked a 360 percent rise over the past week and the highest figure logged in Israel since the end of September. According to the ministry's figures, there are currently 110 patients in serious condition. The number of seriously ill patients has been steadily rising since December 22.

On Sunday Health Ministry director general Nachman Ash approved making available a fourth shot of the coronavirus vaccine to those over 60 and to medical staff, provided they got their third shot at least four months ago. The ministry had already approved giving the fourth shot to those with compromised immune systems and to elderly people living in seniors' residences and nursing homes. Israel is the first country in the world to offer the fourth shot of the vaccine to its citizens.  

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