Serious COVID Cases Keep Climbing as Israel Mulls Fourth Lockdown

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Israelis receiving COVID-19 vaccine in Jerusalem, August 2021.
Israelis receiving COVID-19 vaccine in Jerusalem, August 2021.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Israel recorded 3,421 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, while the number of people in serious condition climbed to 241 – the highest since mid-April, according to figures issued by the Health Ministry on Thursday.

The number of coronavirus tests returning positive, meanwhile, dropped slightly, from 3.35 to 3.28 percent. The R number, representing the average number of people a COVID carrier infects, also went down, from 1.34 to 1.3.

Experts explain: If most Israelis are vaccinated, why is COVID surging?

The last time the R number dropped below 1, meaning the outbreak is under control, was in early June.

A total of 5,387,452 people received two vaccine doses and over 262,000 received a third vaccine booster. So far 6,503 people have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said on Wednesday that the government sees another lockdown as a measure of last resort and that it can still be avoided if the public follows restrictions and if more people get vaccinated. "We will do the maximum to avoid a lockdown," he said.

Israel’s coronavirus cabinet concluded a three-hour-long meeting on Tuesday by announcing a series of new COVID-19 restrictions, as the country plunged deeper into a post-vaccination delta variant wave. The new regulations, including limiting gatherings to those with proof of immunity and encouraging working from home, will go into effect on Sunday.

"Our goal is to keep Israel open while preventing a situation where hospitals fill up, and we'll have a shortage of beds," Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at the opening of a COVID-19 testing center earlier on Wednesday, adding that "we know how to slam on the breaks" if such a situation arises. 

The Health Ministry’s director-general, Prof. Nachman Ash, told Army Radio on Thursday: “We don’t want to get to a lockdown, but reality can make it a necessary move to make.” He added that should the booster shot campaign lead to a decrease in infection rates, “it could prevent or delay stricter measures.”

“For now, I would give time for the third vaccine and other measures to work,” Ash said. “We’ll have to make another decision in two-three weeks, maybe even during August.”

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