Israel's COVID Czar Says Hospitals Still Heavily Burdened Despite Officials' Optimism

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The coronavirus ward at Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem, last month.
The coronavirus ward at Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem, last month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

>> UPDATE: Israel expands booster vaccine campaign to everyone

As Israel is set to reopen schools on Wednesday, the country's coronavirus czar, Prof. Salman Zarka, called on Sunday to limit gatherings to avoid a surge in serious cases.

Zarka, speaking on Kan Bet radio, noted that hospitals are being "stretched to their limits," with 1,175 COVID patients currently hospitalized.

According to data released by the Health Ministry on Sunday, there are currently 726 COVID patients in serious condition – the highest such figure since early March – with 149 on ventilators – the highest since early April.

On Saturday, 7,071 new cases were confirmed, representing a positive rate of 7.09 percent – the highest such figure since early February.

Zarka emphasized that the number of hospitalized patients indicates the heavy load on the system. "We tend to count the serious patients, but every hospitalized patient is a patient who needs care, treatment, medical staff, a family that needs attention. There are about 1,600 COVID patients in the hospitals," he said, noting that this has been the case for weeks, and it's "very disturbing." 

He also pointed to the relatively high number of deaths in August, as well as the high infection rate, number of hospitalized patients and positive rate, and lamented, "The diseases is a serious disease, a deadly disease."

Zarka's remarks and the record-breaking figures come just one day after Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash said that Israel's coronavirus diagnoses and serious cases seem to be on a downward trend, following vaccination efforts. "It all depends on continuing to vaccinate," Prof. Nachman Ash told journalists at a press conference on Saturday night. "The mass of inoculated people is the main factor."

Ash said that over the past ten days, the number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – known as the R number – has declined, and that it may soon fall below one person per COVID patient. "From there, we'll begin to see a drop in infections," he said.

"I want the public to know that there will be no lockdown on Rosh Hashana," to prevent families from celebrating together the Jewish New Year which begins next Monday at sundown, Interior Minister and coronavirus cabinet minister Ayelet Shaked said Saturday night in an interview with Channel 13 News. She also said that beginning next week, Israelis of every age group will be able to receive the third booster shot.       

According to Health Ministry data, more than 1.95 million Israelis have received a third dose of the COVID vaccine as of Sunday morning, and about 5.5 million have gotten two shots. Almost 6 million Israelis have received their first dose. 

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