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COVID czar: Israel in midst of pandemic’s sixth wave, but no restrictions pending

Salman Zarka says current spike, being fueled by Omicron subvariant, is not as serious as previous outbreak; also urges Israelis to mask indoors

Coronavirus czar Prof. Salman Zarka seen during a press conference near Tel Aviv, on November 9, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Coronavirus czar Prof. Salman Zarka seen during a press conference near Tel Aviv, on November 9, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Coronavirus czar Salman Zarka said Wednesday that Israel is in the midst of a sixth wave of the coronavirus pandemic, while assuring the public that the government was not moving to introduce new restrictions.

Briefing reporters, Zarka said at-risk populations, particularly those over the age of 60, have been among those most impacted by the latest wave. He also stressed that the current spike was not as serious as the previous one.

Zarka said the latest wave was predominantly fueled by the BA.5 subvariant of Omicron, which has been detected in more than half of the tested cases.

Health Ministry data released Wednesday showed that over 10,000 coronavirus cases had been identified for the third consecutive day. There were 10,845 people diagnosed with the virus on Tuesday; with a further 5,413 confirmed since midnight, active cases stood at 56,249 Wednesday evening.

Thirty-five percent of the 34,611 tests performed Tuesday came back positive. There were 201 people in serious condition, including 49 in critical condition. The death count stood at 10,911, with 15 people passing away in the last week.

The virus reproduction number (R) fell slightly to 1.28, having reached 1.52 earlier in the month. The R figure is based on rates from 10 days earlier and measures how many people each coronavirus carrier infects on average, with any number above 1 meaning the spread of COVID-19 is increasing. It began to rise above 1 in mid-May, having previously stayed below that threshold for nearly two months.

Magen David worker processes COVID-19 rapid antigen tests in Jerusalem, on June 20, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

While Zarka said new restrictions were not on the horizon, he urged Israelis to wear masks indoors, particularly while flying and taking public transportation. He added that if the serious case numbers continue to climb, the Health Ministry may have to consider recommending, or even mandating, indoor masking.

Israel officially lifted the indoor mask mandate on April 24, scrapping one of the few remaining coronavirus restrictions that were still in place more than two years into the pandemic. According to an unnamed Health Ministry official cited by Kan on Sunday, a decision on renewing the measure will be made next week.

Between April 2020 and April 2022, Israelis were required to wear face coverings indoors for all but 10 days in June 2021, when the mandate was briefly lifted before being swiftly brought back amid burgeoning cases at the time.

Zarka said hospitals across the country have been forced to reopen their designated coronavirus wards as a result of the spike.

“I hope this wave won’t be severe — certainly not as severe as the Omicron wave,” he told reporters.

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