COVID deaths reported in Israel for first time in over 2 weeks

Unvaccinated 48-year-old man and vaccinated man in his 80s succumb as daily cases keep rising; news outlets say Health Ministry inflating number of serious cases

Ilustrative: Hadassah Ein Kerem staff members work in the hospital's coronavirus ward, in Jerusalem on February 1, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Ilustrative: Hadassah Ein Kerem staff members work in the hospital's coronavirus ward, in Jerusalem on February 1, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israeli hospitals reported two deaths from COVID-19 complications on Thursday, the first coronavirus fatalities recorded in over two weeks.

Wolfson Medical Center in Holon said an unvaccinated 48-year-old man died. He did not have any significant preexisting conditions beyond high blood pressure, according to the hospital.

His family members said they had tried unsuccessfully to convince him to get the vaccine. The Ynet news site quoted an unnamed hospital source as saying that had the man been vaccinated, he would likely have survived.

The other fatality was an 86-year-old man hospitalized at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, who had received both vaccine shots. The man’s wife, in her 70s, is also hospitalized with the coronavirus and is in moderate to serious condition. She too got both doses.

The deaths came as Israel has been experiencing a resurgence in infections due to the ultra-infectious Delta variant, though there have been few deaths and serious cases have risen slowly following the country’s mass vaccination campaign.

The fatalities were not yet included in the latest Health Ministry figures published Thursday morning, in which the national toll remained at 6,429. Before Thursday, the last COVID death was recorded on June 23 and prior to that there had been no fatalities for more than a week.

The ministry said 518 new cases had been diagnosed on Wednesday, with active infections — a figure that was under 250 just three weeks ago — rising to 3,568. There have been 844,684 cases confirmed in Israel since the pandemic began.

The positive test rate was 0.7 percent, identical to the preceding few days.

The ministry said that nearly 5.7 million people out of Israel’s population of roughly 9.3 million have received at least one vaccine shot, of whom close to 5.2 million have been fully vaccinated.

A medical worker tests an Israeli youth for coronavirus at a basketball court turned into a coronavirus testing center in Binyamina, June 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The number of patients in serious condition ticked up slightly to 46, out of 78 people currently hospitalized, according to the Health Ministry.

However, multiple news outlets have cast doubt on that figure, arguing that the Health Ministry is inflating the number of people hospitalized in serious condition.

The Yedioth Ahronoth daily said that according to Wednesday figures from hospitals, they collectively have only 27 serious patients in coronavirus wards — 19 fewer than reported by the Health Ministry.

Channel 12 news also compiled hospital data on Thursday and concluded that there are 32 serious cases.

There could be several explanations. Yedioth said moderate cases, discharged patients or recovered patients could have been included in the serious case tally. Channel 12 said the ministry’s tally could include serious patients who are no longer infected with the virus but are still hospitalized in other wards due to complications.

On Wednesday, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash announced that vaccinated travelers returning from high-risk destinations will be forced to enter isolation, following an outbreak of the Delta variant in Israel.

“We will expand the quarantine requirement to the vaccinated who return from countries with serious travel warnings,” Ash told reporters.

Israeli medical workers test Israelis for Covid-19 at a drive-in testing compound in the Golan Heights, following a recent outbreak of the virus. July 7, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Currently, Israelis who are vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 are exempt from quarantine upon returning to the country, unless returning from COVID-19 hotspots to which travel is barred: Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico and Russia. This order does not extend to over a dozen countries flagged in travel advisories for their high COVID-19 caseload, including the United Arab Emirates, Seychelles, Chile, Costa Rica and Georgia.

Despite Ash’s announcement of the change of policy, during a meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet earlier Wednesday ministers did not approve such a measure.

The ministers approved an order saying that all travelers from abroad will now have to self-isolate until receiving a negative COVID-19 test result from samples taken upon landing.

But the government largely steered clear of introducing new restrictions to rein in the rising morbidity rates blamed on the Delta variant.

Despite the rise in cases, Ash told reporters, the prospects of a new lockdown being introduced were low.

The Health Ministry released data on Monday showing that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine appears to largely prevent hospitalization and serious cases, but is significantly less effective against preventing the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

According to the ministry, the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 has dropped by some 30 percentage points to 64%, due to the spread of the Delta variant. The data shows that during May, when the strain was less prevalent, the vaccine was 94.3% effective. The data, however, also shows that the vaccine is still highly effective against preventing serious symptoms and hospitalization. During May, that figure stood at 98.2%, and during June, it was 93%.

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