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Expert Health Ministry panel recommends slashing quarantine to 7 days

Team backs adoption of ‘simple and clear policy’ for isolating those infected with COVID; advises against expanding eligibility for 4th vaccine dose

COVID-19 rapid antigen tests at a Magen David Adom drive-through complex in Jerusalem, on January 10, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
COVID-19 rapid antigen tests at a Magen David Adom drive-through complex in Jerusalem, on January 10, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A Health Ministry advisory panel on Monday recommended shortening the quarantine period for confirmed coronavirus carriers to a week, as record numbers of Israelis contract COVID-19.

The team of experts also objected to expanding access to fourth doses of coronavirus vaccines, which Israel has so far only made available to high-risk groups.

According to Hebrew media reports, the panel said people diagnosed with COVID-19 are most contagious during the first few days after infection, with the risk of them spreading the virus steadily declining over the course of a week.

Israel currently requires anyone infected with COVID-19 to self-isolate for at least 10 days.

“Most of the team’s members supported the setting of a simple and clear policy to [promote] understanding among the public. The policy that is determined must be uniform across the entire economy, without preference for one sector or another,” the experts wrote in a document, according to Channel 12 news.

The change came as the Omicron-driven surge in morbidity sends more and more Israelis into quarantine, leading to concerns of economic fallout as an increasing number of people are unable to work because they themselves are sick or need to care for an infected child unable to attend school.

Hebrew media said some government ministers have called for slashing the quarantine period to five days due to fears of a labor shortage. The Kan public broadcaster reported that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was shown an estimate that 30 percent of the workforce could be required to quarantine within the next week.

An aerial picture taken by a drone shows cars lining up as people wait to be tested for COVID-19 at a Magen David Adom coronavirus testing center in Tel Aviv, on January 10, 2022. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The recommendation to shorten the mandatory quarantine time must be approved by the Health Ministry’s director-general, who said he was inclined to back the change.

“I assume we’ll go in this direction,” Nachman Ash told Channel 12, adding that a day or two were needed in order to prepare.

He also said health officials believed a five-day quarantine period, as recommended by the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, was too short.

“We still have not reached the stage at which we think this is a mild disease and we forgo tests for young people. The infections of adults by young people are significant and as long as we have the ability to test young people with antigen [tests], we will do so,” Ash said.

The expert panel also decided against recommending making extra booster shots available to more of the public. Currently, only those older than 60, medical workers and the immunocompromised are eligible to receive a fourth vaccine dose, which Israel is hoping may help keep Omicron from overwhelming hospitals and shutting down normal life.

The reasoning behind the panel’s decision was not immediately clear.

A man over the age of 60 receives a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a Meuhedet vaccination center in Jerusalem, on January 4, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sheba Medical Center began trials late last month on the effects of a fourth dose, though there is no data yet on whether it provides more protection from Omicron, which has shown an ability to break through other vaccine defenses.

Sheba’s program — which is much smaller than normal drug trials — is the only known study of the effects of a fourth dose, which as of Sunday over a quarter million Israelis were reported to have received.

Earlier Monday, the CEO of Pfizer on Monday said it was not clear if a fourth dose of his company’s COVID vaccine is necessary, but predicted that an Omicron-specific version of the shot would be available by March.

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