Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Nachman Ash predicted Tuesday that Israel's current omicron-fueled COVID wave will likely wane by the end of the month, though the country will still face "increases in the coming week."
According to the latest Health Ministry data, the number of coronavirus patients in serious condition currently stands at 498, a significant increase since last week, but still one third of the record number of cases during the country's third COVID wave.
Moreover, 100 patients are connected to respirators and another 13 to ECMO machines.
As infections continue to mount, the country's testing apparatus and hospitals across the country are nearing capacity as medical staff are sent into quarantine.
COVID data collection and reporting have also been affected. Though normally updated three times a day, the Health Ministry's coronavirus data dashboard was updated on Tuesday after a two-day gap.
"We have large loads on our computer systems, so they are updated periodically," Ash said.
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In the wake of an ongoing debate on the utility of Israel's quarantine policy, which has sent many into isolation, the government has decided to reduce the isolation period for people diagnosed with COVID from seven days to five days, after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz both agreed to the move on Monday.
The government will also distribute over 25 million home tests free of charge to the public with an emphasis on vulnerable populations, Bennett and Horowitz announced Tuesday.
"We are committed to providing the tools necessary to maintain the health of every individual in Israel, along with maintaining the economy, education and daily life alongside the coronavirus," Horowitz said. "I call on the public, make use of the tests. It's simple, accessible and free."
Target groups for the home test distribution include school children, the elderly and welfare recipients.
The decision to shorten the isolation period, which came after health experts publicly advocated easing quarantine rules over the past few days, will go into effect on Wednesday.
Bennett said that the high number of those infected and those in isolation "is creating a heavy burden on the economy" and that the change would both protect the health of the public and allow economic activity.
The Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians had previously suggested that patients not be required to isolate at all unless they had symptoms, were at risk of serious illness or had contact with a high-risk population.
Despite the relatively low number of patients in serious condition and several international studies suggesting omicron causes less severe illness than earlier variants, Israeli experts are still unable to confirm whether that is the case.