COVID in Israel: Omicron Cases at 527, Majority Among Returnees From Abroad

Despite the increase in COVID cases and new restrictions on malls, seriously ill patients are on the decline in Israel

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A COVID vaccination center in Jerusalem, December 23, 2021.
A COVID vaccination center in Jerusalem, December 23, 2021. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Israel has recorded 527 omicron cases since the COVID variant was first identified in the country last month, with 351 carriers returning from abroad, according to the Health Ministry.

Another 1,346 COVID patients are highly suspected of carrying the omicron strain, health officials said.   

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On Thursday, 1,482 coronavirus were diagnosed in Israel, close to a third higher than the daily average over the past week. Some 1.4 percent of people who were tested were positive for the virus.

The COVID infection rate known as the R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – is still rising and now stands at 1.36. 

However, despite the rise in new cases, the number of seriously ill COVID patients has declined. On Thursday, the figure stood at 88, of whom 45 were in critical condition and 38 on ventilators.

Israel's COVID cabinet decided Friday to tighten restrictions on public access to shopping and commercial centers. Under the new rules, customers and employees must present proof of vaccination known as the Green Pass before entering stores larger than 100 square meters—including malls and commercial centers, both open and closed. 

Malls will now abide by Purple Badge regulations, a set of rules which encourage social distancing. In malls, one person is allowed per 15 square meters. In addition, food stalls will only serve customers with Green Passes and in-mall seating will not be allowed. 

Commercial spaces that provide essential services will not be subject to Green Pass restrictions, but will abide by social distancing rules which allow one person per seven square meters.

As of Friday, nine local authorities have been designated as so-called red with high infection rates and 26 as orange with moderate infection rate. Earlier this week, the government ordered that classes for seventh through 12th graders must be conducted remotely in red and orange communities in which the rate of vaccination is less than 70 percent.

Also this week, the Health Ministry’s pandemic expert panel recommended that people over age 60, as well as the immunocompromised and medical personnel, get a second booster shot of the coronavirus vaccine. The committee also recommended that the minimum time between second and third booster shots be cut to three months from five. 

The recommendations were made in response to omicron’s high rate of contagion and growing evidence that the vaccine’s efficacy wanes after several months. However, it remains unclear when the health care system will begin administering fourth doses. 

“We issued a recommendation, but it’s still on ice,” the panel’s chairman, Dr. Boaz Lev, said in a press conference. “It’s not yet clear when it will be implemented. No decision has been made yet, and it hasn’t been adopted by the Health Ministry’s director general yet. We’re still gathering data.”

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