Slight fall in number of serious cases

Health Ministry believes Omicron wave has passed its peak

Still, minister warns Israel could see two more tough weeks; officials hope transmission rate will drop below 1 next week, potentially signaling end of outbreak

A medical worker takes a COVID-19 rapid antigen test from Israelis, at a testing center in Beit Hashmonai, on January 16, 2022. ( Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
A medical worker takes a COVID-19 rapid antigen test from Israelis, at a testing center in Beit Hashmonai, on January 16, 2022. ( Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Health Ministry officials believe that Israel’s Omicron surge has peaked and is now trending down, but warned that the country could still face two or three more difficult weeks.

On Thursday, 57,539 new cases were recorded, the ministry said, down from an average of some 85,000 earlier in the week.

However, there was still concern that the number of patients in serious condition could rise. The rate of serious cases tends to lag behind new infections due to the time it takes for patients to deteriorate.

“We expect two more difficult weeks in terms of hospitalizations. It’s not over and we could see new variants,” said Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz.

Nevertheless, there was a slight drop on Friday evening in the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in serious condition, according to Health Ministry data, with 941 cases reported. On Thursday there were 960 serious cases.

The R-value, the reproduction rate of the virus measuring the average number of people each positive person infects, dropped to 1.05 and officials believe it could drop below 1 next week.

The son of a patient diagnosed positive to COVID-19 pray as he reads psalms next to the bed of his father hospitalized at a Shaare Zedek hospital coronavirus ward on January 20, 2022 in Jerusalem. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Any number over 1 indicates infections are rising, while a figure below that signals that an outbreak is abating. Last month, the R-value shot up to 2.12, but has since been on the decline. The transmission rate is based on data from 10 days earlier.

In further good news, the ministry said it was also seeing a drop in the number of flu cases reported. The combination of the Omicron surge and a bad flu season had taxed hospitals.

Some 211 people are currently hospitalized with flu, down from over 900 at the beginning of the month.

Friday’s data showed 485,237 Israelis were actively infected with COVID-19, and of them, 2,418 were hospitalized.

As of Friday morning, hospital occupancy nationwide stood at 59.4%, and more than 8,800 medical staffers were absent from work due to COVID, including 1,282 doctors and 2,793 nurses.

Over the past week, more than 503,796 Israelis have tested positive for COVID, with experts believing that the actual figure could be several times higher.

Also in the past week, 179 Israelis with COVID have died — a 88.4% increase over the previous week — bringing the total death toll since the start of the pandemic to 8,599. A month ago, the average weekly death toll was less than 10.

Senior officials in the Health Ministry additionally made the assessment that some three million Israelis have contracted the Omicron variant alone, a number that would far outstrip the 2.6 million total cases Israel has confirmed since February 2020, the Kan public broadcaster reported on Thursday.

Prof. Eran Segal, an expert who advises the government and has closely tracked the pandemic in Israel, noted that Wednesday was the first time in a week that there was a drop in daily cases.

However, earlier this week, he said that reaching the peak of infections should not be seen as an all-clear signal.

“Once we stop seeing a rise in new infections, we’ll continue to see a rise in serious cases,” Segal said. “I hope that by next week we’ll reach a peak, and we’ll see stability and the beginning of a drop.”

Segal said that while he believes Israel is “nearing the end of this wave, the chance of getting infected now is the highest it has been since the outbreak of the pandemic.” He said that becoming infected with COVID “is not inevitable; these are the days that we must be careful — in particular those who are at high risk.”

He also assessed that the fast-spreading Omicron variant could mark the end of the pandemic as it has been experienced over the past two years.

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