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Expert says key measure of virus spread suggests Israel’s current wave receding

Eran Segal reports the R-number, which measures how many new cases each infection causes, has dropped below 1 in Israel for first time since early June

A child is tested for coronavirus at a testing facility in the Golan Heights town of Katzrin on September 6, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
A child is tested for coronavirus at a testing facility in the Golan Heights town of Katzrin on September 6, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

A leading health expert on Wednesday said a key measure for gauging the extent of the coronavirus’s spread suggests that Israel’s current wave of morbidity is now in retreat.

The basic reproduction number, or R-number, measures the number of new cases resulting from each infection. Any number over 1 indicates infections are rising, while a figure below that signals that an outbreak is abating.

According to Eran Segal, a computational biologist from the Weizmann Institute of Science and a top adviser to the government’s coronavirus cabinet, Israel’s current R-number is 0.95.

The last time the Health Ministry reported a basic reproduction number below 1 was in early June, before new daily cases began to surge.

“The decline is not due to fewer tests. The number of tests in the past two days is similar to that from a week ago,” Segal wrote on Twitter, referring to the possibility that testing could have dropped due to the Jewish new year, which began Monday evening and ends Wednesday at nightfall.

He said there was also a drop in the positive test rate and the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in serious condition, a key metric used by the government in the current wave.

Eran Segal (Courtesy)

There was no official confirmation from the Health Ministry, though Segal’s tweet was shared by Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz. The ministry’s online coronavirus dashboard, last updated Sunday evening, shows a basic reproduction number of 1.05.

Also Wednesday, there were long lines at coronavirus testing stations around the country, with Hebrew media reporting Israelis sitting in their cars for hours as they waited to be tested.

The Ynet news site noted most of the cars were carrying young children, with those younger than 12 not eligible to be vaccinated and thus required to present a negative coronavirus test to enter venues operating under Green Pass rules.

To enter businesses and events operating under the Green Pass, which last month was extended to kids below 12 amid rising morbidity, one must show proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19, or have a negative test result from within the past 72 hours.

The reports of extended waiting times to get tested came as Israelis flocked to parks and beaches across Israel, taking advantage of the warm weather and time off for Rosh Hashanah.

Israelis enjoy the Tel Aviv Port on September 7, 2021. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Last year, Israelis celebrated Rosh Hashanah under lockdown, but the current government has resisted reimposing sweeping restrictions to contain the latest wave, instead relying on vaccinations and more limited curbs on gatherings.

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