Knesset okays eased quarantine rules for returning travelers

Daily COVID tally hits new record, but serious cases continue to drop

Serious patients now at 666 after reaching 753 on Sunday; despite active cases passing 90,000 and with over 11,000 daily infections, COVID czar expresses ‘cautious optimism’

A man receives his third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a temporary health care center in Jerusalem, on August 29, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A man receives his third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a temporary health care center in Jerusalem, on August 29, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

New daily COVID-19 cases hit a new record on Wednesday, but the number of serious cases patients continued to drop amid the country’s ongoing mass drive to give booster vaccine shots.

According to Health Ministry data published Thursday morning, 11,187 new cases were diagnosed the day before, slightly surpassing the previous record of 11,133 reached on Monday.

The rate of positive tests was 7.92 percent, the highest in the current wave but lower than in January, when it reached 10%, and in September 2020, when it reached 15%. The record daily numbers came due to more tests — 142,636 on Wednesday — being conducted than in the past.

The number of serious cases — increasingly seen as a more crucial metric since vaccines are more effective in preventing serious illness than in preventing infections — stood at 666. On Sunday, that number was at 753.

Among those aged 60 and up, the rate of serious cases per capita was more than 15 times greater for the unvaccinated than for the vaccinated.

Of the serious cases, 208 were defined as critical. The death toll went up by four during the night and reached 7,090.

The number of active cases was also at record levels and reached 90,058.

The data showed that almost 6 million out of Israel’s total population of 9.3 million have received at least one vaccine dose, with almost 5.5 million getting two shots and 2.35 million also getting the booster in recent weeks.

Israel has the world’s highest seven-day rolling average of new daily coronavirus cases per million people, according to figures published by the Oxford University-based Our World in Data.

Coronavirus czar Prof. Salman Zarka attends a press conference about the coronavirus in Jerusalem on August 29, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Coronavirus czar Salman Zarka expressed optimism over the drop in serious cases, but cautioned that Israel faces a “challenging month” with the start of the school year and the upcoming Jewish High Holiday period.

“There is some optimism but… any gathering has potential for more infections, so cautious optimism is a better description,” Zarka told the Ynet news site.

He said he would like more restrictions on mass events, but defended the government’s policy to avoid a lockdown and try to keep the economy as open as possible while trying to curb serious cases.

Zarka said that the coming days are expected to see a jump in the rate of positive tests, since a high percentage of them are being conducted among kids under the age of 12, who can’t currently be vaccinated.

Students arrive to the classroom on the first day of the new academic year, at Orot Etzion School in the West Bank settlement of Efrat, September 1, 2021. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Experts have expressed concerns that the opening of schools Wednesday could send infection numbers even higher.

Almost 2.5 million Israeli students from kindergarten to 12th grade started school Wednesday. Some 250,000 students were compelled to attend via Zoom due to virus restrictions, but the Education Ministry said over 90% of students showed up for school on the first day, far exceeding expectations.

A majority of teachers across the country have not been vaccinated with the coronavirus booster shot, according to Channel 13 news.

Meanwhile on Thursday, the Knesset’s Labor and Welfare Committee approved eased restrictions for vaccinated or recovered travelers entering the country.

According to the decision, which takes effect Friday, when returning from a country not on the list of high-risk destinations, the following will be allowed to quarantine for only 24 hours or until getting a negative airport test result: those vaccinated with three doses, or with two doses if no more than six months have passed since the second shot; recovered patients up to six months after receiving a certificate of recovery; and recovered patients who have then received a vaccine dose.

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