New COVID cases in Israel hit a three-month high on Tuesday, while serious cases appeared to remain steady as the Omicron variant continued to gain footing.
The Health Ministry reported 2,952 new cases of COVID a day earlier, a one-day figure higher than any seen since late September, at the tail end of the Delta wave. The positivity rate among those tested on Monday hit 2.35 percent, the highest seen since early October. The R reproduction rate reached 1.47, a number last reached at the start of the Delta wave in June.
But serious cases and hospitalizations remained steady, with 85 serious cases reported, compared to 80 a week ago and 96 on Sunday. As of Tuesday morning, the Health Ministry reported 15,487 total active COVID cases, with just 137 of them hospitalized, 85 of them in serious condition and 38 on ventilators.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Tuesday a change in the quarantine regulations for those who are exposed to a COVID patient, after a consultation with health officials and other ministers.
Under the new guidelines, anyone who is fully vaccinated and exposed to a positive COVID patient — no matter which strain — will have to remain in quarantine only until they test negative via PCR. Once released, they will not be allowed to enter mass events or places with high-risk populations, like nursing homes, for the following 10 days. Until now, fully vaccinated Israelis did not have to quarantine at all following an exposure to a COVID patient, unless it was suspected to be Omicron.
Those who are not vaccinated, meanwhile, will be required to complete seven days of quarantine with two negative tests if they are exposed to a positive COVID patient with any strain of the virus.
Israelis turning out to receive their first dose of the COVID vaccine continued to remain relatively high, with more than 10,000 receiving a first dose on Monday, compared to fewer than 8,000 a week ago. Additionally, more than 8,000 received a third dose of the shot, compared to 5,000 who got the booster one week ago.
Vaccination rates of 5- to 11-year-olds were continuing to tick upward, more than a month after the shots first became available. As of Tuesday, more than 15% of the entire age group has received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, compared to more than 62% of 12- to 15-year-olds, who became eligible in the summer.
Overall, 70% of all Israelis have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, and 45% have received three doses. On Monday, the Health Ministry cut down the minimum gap between the second and third doses to three months, from the previous policy of five months.
Since the start of the outbreak, more than 1.3 million Israelis have tested positive for COVID.
As new cases continue to skyrocket, Bennett on Tuesday refused to rule out the possibility of a lockdown, though he has remained steadfast against that measure for months.
“My goal from the start of the pandemic is to avoid lockdowns as much as possible,” he told Kan public radio in an interview from quarantine. “Here, I don’t know what the day will bring,” he added. “We will in any case be in a very challenging situation when it comes to the capacity of the hospitals… We will do what is right. I don’t want to come out and make a statement, because it’s complicated.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the head of the Health Ministry’s public health department, reportedly said Tuesday that Israel could face a PCR test shortage as cases continue to skyrocket. According to Army Radio, Alroy-Preis told government officials that, if that occurs, she would recommend conducting a PCR on day seven of quarantine and skipping the one taken at the start of quarantine following exposure.
In addition, according to Hebrew media reports, Israel is expected to soon cut down the number of countries on its “red” list to which Israelis are banned from flying, but keep the US, UK, Canada and France on the list.
Horowitz said Sunday that such a move was likely soon, as the spread of Omicron shifts from coming largely from abroad to being mostly within Israel.
“The moment infections are spreading, there is no point in stopping entry from abroad,” Horowitz told Kan. “The opening of [Israel’s] skies won’t take much time, possibly next week.”
The Health Ministry has not updated its data on Omicron infections since Saturday evening, when it announced 1,118 total cases of the variant within Israel. Of those, 723 were among people who recently returned from abroad.