Over 125,000 new COVID infections in two days, serious cases near 500

Finance minister calls for end to Green Pass; Health Ministry to continue administering 4th vaccine dose, despite new evidence that it is not very effective against Omicron

The COVID-19 ward of Ziv Medical Center in Safed, on January 18, 2022. (David Cohen/Flash90)
The COVID-19 ward of Ziv Medical Center in Safed, on January 18, 2022. (David Cohen/Flash90)

New data from the Health Ministry Tuesday showed that 498 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized in serious condition in the country, up from 446 on Sunday evening.

The Health Ministry said there were 65,259 confirmed new infections on Monday, and 62,210 new cases Sunday. Both figures marked daily records.

The Health Ministry had not updated its COVID data dashboard in two days, blaming technical problems, but these appeared to have been solved by Tuesday evening.

The ministry said that of the 498 serious cases, 135 were in critical condition. Of those 100 were on ventilators and 13 were hooked up to an ECMO machine.

Another 907 patients were hospitalized in mild or moderate condition. Meanwhile, 8,129 medical staff were currently unavailable due to infection or exposure.

The number of serious cases has climbed as officials scramble to recalibrate their response to the Omicron variant, which has caused staggering numbers of infections in recent weeks, but fewer deaths than previous outbreaks.

The Health Ministry said Tuesday it will continue to offer fourth vaccine doses to Israelis over 60 and at-risk groups, despite a study released Monday indicating the fourth shot does not provide sufficient protection against Omicron. Initial data showed the current widespread Omicron variant is able to bypass the vaccine in many cases.

But health officials have said the dose’s effect of significantly increasing antibody counts in the blood could still help protect people from serious illness.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman called on Tuesday for an end to the widespread use of the “Green Pass” certificate, given to vaccinated individuals, those who’ve recovered from the disease or those with a negative test from the previous 48 hours.

“There is no medical or epidemiological logic in the Green Pass, many experts agree,” Liberman said. “There is, however, direct harm to the economy, to daily operations and a not insignificant contribution to daily panic in the public.”

Liberman said he was working with “all the authorities” in order to get rid of the Green Pass and “maintain a normal life routine for all of us.”

Israelis are only allowed into many public and private facilities with a Green Pass.

COVID-19 vaccinations in Rehovot, on January 10, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Only approximately 24% of 5- to 11-year-olds have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, and just 12% have received two doses.

Also Tuesday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and Liberman announced that some 25-30 million rapid home test kits will be distributed for free throughout Israel.

According to an official statement, distribution is set to begin next week, with some of the tests to be earmarked for specific segments of the population.

The demand for rapid tests is expected to go up after the government on Monday announced that the mandatory quarantine period for Israelis infected with COVID-19 would be shortened from a week to five days.

Vaccinated people who are infected but asymptomatic will need two negative antigen tests, on the fourth and fifth day, to be released from quarantine. Unvaccinated asymptomatic people will need the test on the fifth day to be conducted at a recognized testing facility, and cannot rely on a home test.

Those still displaying symptoms are required to keep isolating for a total of 10 days.

The move also shortens the isolation period for people exposed to a confirmed coronavirus carrier, who currently must quarantine for at least a week if they are unvaccinated or did not recover from COVID. Those with immunity are already exempt from quarantine if they test negative after being in close contact with an infected person.

The new rules are set to take effect Wednesday.

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