Israel broke a new record for COVID cases on Wednesday, recording its highest-ever number of diagnoses since the pandemic began as the omicron variant continues to spread.
The Health Ministry reported 11,978 new cases, with 6.65 percent of COVID tests coming back positive. On Monday, 10,644 cases were recorded, representing a 360 percent rise from the previous week. The previous record had been set in early September, during the rollout of the booster shot drive, with 11,345 people diagnosed in one day.
Israel's R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – has been rising steadily and reached 1.94, the highest number since June. The figure is calculated according to data from the previous 10 days, and therefore does not include infections following New Year's festivities, nor the spike in cases seen in the past week.
There are currently 125 COVID patients in serious condition, and 38 on ventilators. Two people died of the disease on Tuesday; neither were fully vaccinated. Since the pandemic began, 8,247 people have died of the disease.
About 14 percent of Israelis over the age of 20 have not been vaccinated. They account for 68 percent of all serious cases, and 54 percent of new serious cases recorded over the past week.
As the country's COVID numbers continue to reach record highs and demand for testing increases, the Health Ministry announced changes in its coronavirus testing policy that will go into effect on Friday.
To relieve the pressure on testing facilities, the new policy will rely more on home antigen swab tests to clear vaccinated people who aren’t in a high-risk group to leave quarantine. The health care providers and other testing facilities have made it clear to ministry officials that the current policy is unsustainable when so many people need testing.
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The ministry therefore plans to reserve PCR tests for groups at high risk of serious illness. These groups won’t be determined solely by age and vaccination status, sources in the health system said. But they probably will include people with conditions such as diabetes, obesity and pulmonary disease.
For healthy, vaccinated people who are the lowest-risk group, the ministry plans to rely on home antigen tests. Unvaccinated people not in a high-risk group will need an antigen test from a testing facility to leave quarantine.
Meanwhile, preliminary findings from an Israeli study of the effects of a fourth COVID vaccine dose indicate it produces a fivefold increase in the level of antibodies.
The Sheba Medical Center reported on Tuesday that the increase was seen a week following the inoculation with a second booster shot, which Israel began administering amid a surge in omicron infections.
The study, which is focused on the safety and effectiveness of a fourth dose, began last week on 154 employees of the medical center. They had all received their first booster shots no later than August 20 of last year and had antibody blood test readings under 700. All the participants in the trial have been undergoing blood testing to track their level of antibodies.