Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz on Sunday ordered top health officials to move forward with shortening mandatory quarantine for Israelis infected with COVID-19 from a week to five days.
Horowitz’s proposal would also shorten the isolation period for people exposed to a confirmed coronavirus carrier, who currently must quarantine for at least a week if they are unvaccinated or did not recover from COVID. Anyone with immunity is exempt from quarantine if they test negative after being in close contact with an infected person.
Senior ministry officials met Sunday evening to discuss the matter and were due to reconvene Monday for further deliberations, with a decision expected in the coming days.
According to the Kan public broadcaster, officials were divided on whether the quarantine rules would apply to the general public or only essential workers if they do decide to further slash isolation times.
Several other countries have already cut quarantine to five days, including the United States and Britain.
Horowitz’s push to shorten quarantine comes as an increasing number of Israelis, including students and educators, have been required to self-isolate due to a surge in infections driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
During the weekly cabinet meeting, several ministers called for the Health Ministry to shorten quarantine to five days.
“Children face eating disorders, a tsunami of mental health issues, abnormal sexual behaviors, and more, all because of unnecessary isolation,” Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton said during the meeting Sunday, according to Hebrew-language media reports.
Under the new quarantine rules that took effect last week, the isolation period for asymptomatic COVID patients was cut from 10 days to seven. But those still displaying symptoms throughout the full week are required to keep isolating for a total of 10 days.
“We are exploring the possibility of shortening the isolation for staff at medical institutions and other essential positions, and we will do so responsibly,” Health Ministry Director General Nachman Ash said earlier Sunday during a visit at a coronavirus ward in Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva.
Ash did not specify if such a move would also extend more broadly.
According to the latest Health Ministry figures, 27,167 people tested positive for COVID on Saturday. The number of serious cases rose to 436, including 96 on ventilators.
The virus’s R-value — measuring how many people each COVID carrier infects — continued a downward trend of recent days, dipping to 1.59, having steadily declined from a high of 2.12 on Thursday. The figure is based on data from 10 days earlier, with any value above 1 showing the infection is spreading.
The positive test rate dropped as well, to 9.5 percent, after rising to nearly 15% on Friday. Nearly 300,000 tests were conducted on Saturday.
The death toll stood at 8,319, after eight new fatalities were recorded on Saturday.
In August-September 2021, when the country was in the grip of a wave of Delta variant infectious, daily deaths averaged over 20 for a period of a few weeks, whereas throughout the current wave, the toll has remained in single digits, and usually fewer than five.