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Fifth COVID wave picks up, with 50% of diagnoses estimated to be Omicron

Bennett warns no one will completely escape impact of coronavirus tide, moves to ease isolation rules for vaccinated to prevent de facto lockdown-by-quarantine

Health care workers take test samples at a drive through complex to check for Covid-19 infections, in Modi'in, on December 26, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Health care workers take test samples at a drive through complex to check for Covid-19 infections, in Modi'in, on December 26, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Health Ministry figures released Monday showed a continued surge in infections due to the Omicron variant, with 1,760 coronavirus cases diagnosed the day before.

In the eight hours from midnight until 8 a.m. Monday, a further 602 cases were confirmed, with data indicating that half of all the coronavirus patients in the country now have Omicron. Last Sunday there were 1,021 cases detected and the daily number grew to 1,781 by Friday.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who has been self-isolating after his daughter tested positive for the coronavirus Sunday, warned at a meeting with Health Ministry officials that what is now Israel’s fifth wave of infections will touch of everyone in the country.

“No one, especially those who have children in the education system, will avoid this wave, one way or another, even if he is the prime minister,” Bennett said at Monday’s meeting, according to leaks reported by Hebrew media.

Figures presented showed that Omicron infections have doubled every 2.5 days and now account for 50 percent of cases reviewed in epidemiological probes.

In addition, samples from sewage water showed Omicron detected in 19 locations across the country, from Haifa in the north to Ashdod in the southern coastal region, as well as in the heart of the country in cities such as Modiin and Beit Shemesh, Channel 12 news reported.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting in Kibbutz Mavo Hama on December 26, 2021. (Gil Eliyahu/POOL/Flash90)

At the meeting, an analyst pointed out that a month into the previous wave of infections in the country, which was caused by the Delta variant over the summer, there were 1,000 new cases a day. However, the rapid spread of Omicron indicates that within a month Israel could see 100,000 new cases a day, the analyst estimated, according to a report from the Ynet news site.

While Bennett and other senior ministers are against ordering a lockdown, there is growing concern that the rapid Omicron spread will push so many Israelis into quarantine through infection or exposure to those who are infected — some estimates say that number will come close to a million people — that the country will effectively be closed anyway.

Under current policy, even the fully vaccinated are required to quarantine after exposure to an Omicron carrier, a regulation that ministers are seeking to ease as a way to avoid the economic impact of hundreds of thousands of isolations. Bennett told the meeting that the change was being planned in coordination with experts at the Health Ministry.

“The goal is to indeed ease up on the fully vaccinated so that half the country doesn’t go into quarantine,” he said, according to Ynet.

There were 1,118 confirmed cases of Omicron in Israel, of which 723 are among people who returned from abroad, according to Hebrew media reports.

Health care workers take test samples at a drive through complex to check for Covid-19 infections, in Modi’in, on December 26, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Monday’s Health Ministry figures showed that of the 94,300 virus tests carried out the previous day, 1.87% confirmed infection, a slight drop from Saturday’s 2.16% positive rate. However, there is usually a drop in testing activities over the weekend, which tends to skew some indicators.

There were 87 patients hospitalized in serious condition, down from 96 the day before. With no deaths since Friday, the toll since the start of the pandemic last year remained 8,242.

The number of active patients was given as 13,053.

The government has made mass vaccination a key strategy in dealing with the outbreak and shots are available for all those over the age of five. Of Israel’s roughly 9.5 million residents, 6,513,756 have had a least one dose of which 5,886,335 have also had the second and 4,200,101 have also had a booster.

Some restrictions have been put in place, with fresh curbs coming into effect Monday on shopping malls and large stores limiting the number of customers permitted at any one time.

On Monday, Sheba Medical Center just outside Tel Aviv began a study that will see it administer a fourth vaccine shot to 6,000 individuals — including 150 medical staff. The study, the first of its kind in the world, is being carried out in conjunction with the Health Ministry and has been approved by the government’s senior panel on human medical trials.

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