Daily rate of positive COVID tests goes above 2% for first time since March

Serious cases rise to 108, with top expert urging steps to curb outbreak; 12 recent Delta Plus cases identified; travelers to no longer be seen off or greeted inside airport

People, some wearing face masks, walk on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, July 25, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People, some wearing face masks, walk on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, July 25, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The daily rate of positive COVID-19 tests in Israel has risen above 2 percent for the first time since March, according to Health Ministry data published Monday morning.

There were 1,398 new cases identified Sunday among 67,676 tests, a positivity rate of some 2.07%. Additionally, 506 cases were diagnosed between midnight and 10 a.m. Monday.

This brought the number of active cases to 11,606, after the figure was around 200 less than six weeks ago.

The number of serious cases rose to 108, of whom 25 were listed as in critical condition.

The total death toll was 6,461, with the country registering a total of 861,516 cases since the pandemic began.

Prof. Galia Rahav, director of the infectious diseases unit at Sheba Medical Center, told the Kan public broadcaster that the rise in serious cases — they reached a low of 19 last month — was concerning and required action.

“We need to convince the unvaccinated to get vaccinated,” she said. “If we reach herd immunity, we will avoid lockdowns in the future.”

Prof. Galia Rahav, Head of Sheba Medical Center’s Infectious Disease Unit and Laboratory, looks at data on COVID-19 patients (courtesy of Sheba Medical Center)

The number of COVID patients in serious condition has doubled in just the past 10 days, but is still a fraction of the peak seen during the third wave, in January, when there were more than 1,200 serious cases. During the second wave in the fall, serious cases hit a peak of 850 in October.

Earlier this month, the coronavirus cabinet agreed that “the leading parameter” for instating new COVID restrictions would be the measure of serious cases. At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett vowed to continue “insisting on sustaining livelihoods, the economy, education, and the freedom of Israeli citizens” through the use of masks and vaccines, rather than instituting new lockdowns.

Hebrew media reported that among the recent cases, 12 were of the so-called Delta Plus variant, a further mutation of the ultra-infectious Delta strain. Most of those cases were among returnees from Georgia, and there were reportedly indications that there was more than one infection chain.

Health authorities still don’t know whether the variant is more infectious or dangerous than the Delta variant.

However, starting Monday night, travelers won’t be allowed to have others accompany them or greet them inside Ben Gurion Airport’s terminals, in an attempt to minimize infections there. Those accompanying a minor or a person with special needs will be exempted from that rule.

An Israeli youth receives the coronavirus vaccine in Petah Tikva, on July 19, 2021. (Flash90)

Health Ministry figures reported last week for the period between June 20 and July 17 indicate that the COVID vaccine has dropped to being just 39% effective at preventing transmission, but remains more than 91% effective at preventing severe cases. But some analysts have warned that the figures on vaccine effectiveness are prone to major inaccuracies because of a range of factors, including questions over whether there is accurate data on infection levels among the non-vaccinated, which is vital for such statistics.

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