COVID still climbing, with 43,815 new cases detected, but no rise in serious cases

Seriously ill patients stable at 254; positive test rate climbs to 12.09%; MK Ofir Sofer catches virus

HMO workers conduct tests  on PCR samples for COVID-19 at a Clalit Health Services laboratory in Jerusalem  on January 10, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
HMO workers conduct tests on PCR samples for COVID-19 at a Clalit Health Services laboratory in Jerusalem on January 10, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A rapid rise in coronavirus cases that has seen record caseloads every day over the past week continued Tuesday with 43,815 new patients confirmed, the highest number since the pandemic began in early 2020.

Health Ministry figures released Wednesday showed that out of 360,038 virus tests carried out, 12.09 percent returned positive, the highest value since September 29, 2020, when it was 15.29%.

The number of seriously ill patients was given as 254, one fewer than the day before. Of those, 84 are considered critical and 63 are on ventilators.

With the death of a patient the previous day, the toll since the start of the pandemic reached 8,274.

The Omicron virus variant has raced across Israel over the past week, leaving the country with 222,877 active patients, 198,276 of whom were diagnosed over the past seven days — a rate three times higher than the previous week. The rampage has left 156,393 Israelis in quarantine due to infection or exposure to an infected person, ministry figures showed.

The Israel Defense Forces has faced its own major outbreak in recent days, with the number of cases increasing five-fold over the past week to 7,395 as of Wednesday. Stricter protective measures were instituted on bases along with a ban on most civilians entering IDF facilities, the military said.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton reiterated Wednesday that she did not want to close the education system, saying there was “comprehensive support from experts” for the idea of keeping schools open.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton attends a New Hope faction meeting at the Knesset, on December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“More and more people understand that the damage to children from closures is tremendous and these days we are seeing the grave consequences of lockdowns on children,” she said during a Wednesday meeting on the subject, according to unsourced Hebrew media reports.

“Talk of closing the education system is damaging to children and parents. It will not happen,” she vowed.

A Tuesday evening meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, a select panel of ministers who form virus policy, ended without any major decisions.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Wednesday that ministers at the meeting had asked why the quarantine period was not being reduced to five days as is the case in the US. Israel on Tuesday shortened quarantine from ten to seven days.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly told ministers that so far the number of active patients was not bringing the country to a standstill but the situation would need to be reassessed.

“If we see in three weeks that a new decision needs to be made as we balance between the disease and the shutdown of essential systems, we will do it,” Kan quoted him as saying.

The virus has struck lawmakers too, with MK Ofir Sofer of the Religious Zionism party announcing Wednesday that he was infected.

MK Ofir Sofer (R) attends a committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With Sofer, 11 lawmakers out of 120 MKs now have the coronavirus. On Monday, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev both announced they had tested positive.

The government has made mass vaccination a central strategy in meeting the wave of infections, the fifth the country has experienced during the pandemic.

Of Israel’s population of 9.5 million, 6,649,940 have had at least one vaccine dose, of which 5,988,432 have had both and 4,358,960 the third booster. In addition, 424,130 have had a fourth vaccine shot, recently made available to those over 60 or at risk, according to Health Ministry figures.

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