Health ministry chief as positivity rate tops 3%: ‘We’re not seeing a slowdown’

Nachman Ash says 3rd shot will help fight against coronavirus but boosters may be needed perpetually; serious COVID cases rise to 212

New Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on July 13, 2021. (Flash90)
New Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on July 13, 2021. (Flash90)

Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash said Sunday morning that new regulations had yet to yield any measurable deceleration in the spread of the coronavirus in Israel, as it battles a resurgent outbreak amid the spread of the Delta variant.

As of Sunday morning, the positivity rate for those tested for COVID-19 was over three percent, the highest recorded in months.

A day after the total number of serious COVID-19 cases passed 200 for the first time since mid-April and a new high in daily cases was recorded, Ash, speaking to the Kan public broadcaster, said the Health Ministry was concerned things could get worse.

“The rate of positive tests has passed 3% and we do not see a slowdown in morbidity,” Ash said. “We are monitoring the data. I can say and reassure that the number of people on respirators has not increased much. But it certainly worries us.”

According to Health Ministry figures Sunday morning, there were 2,080 COVID-19 cases confirmed on Saturday, with 3.17 percent of the 73,710 tests performed coming back positive.

There were 212 serious cases, up 11 from midnight. Of those, 42 people were in critical condition, with 37 of them on ventilators.

The death toll ticked up to 6,474, with one fatality since midnight.

Ziv hospital team members at the coronavirus ward in Safed on July 28, 2021 (David Cohen/Flash90)

In total there have now been 874,807 confirmed COVID cases in the country since the pandemic began.

Two days after Israel began administering third shots of the vaccines to people over 60, Ash said the shot would help the fight against the virus but raised concerns that boosters would be needed perpetually.

“It’s expected to reduce the number of patients in serious condition in the coming weeks,” he said.

“It is possible that the third vaccine will last longer… I really hope we don’t need a vaccine every six months, and it could be like the flu — an annual vaccine,” he added.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told healthcare executives Friday that the government’s goal is to give booster shots to 1.5 million Israelis above the age of 60 in the next week.

“This is not a long operation, it will be fast and furious,” the Meuhedet HMO’s chief executive officer Sigal Rosenberg told the Ynet news site on Friday, explaining that another goal of the vaccine drive is to relieve hospitals of pressure in the coming weeks and prevent them from being overrun with elderly coronavirus patients.

Israel’s decision to begin administering third doses comes amid a struggle to contain a recent wave of coronavirus infections that has seen case numbers rocket, from just dozens a day a month ago to an average daily caseload of over 2,000 this week.

An Israeli man is seen after receiving a third Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the Israeli city of Ramat HaSharon, on July 30, 2021. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

In an interview Saturday with Channel 12, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz defended Israel’s decision to approve third vaccine shots for the elderly rather than wait for US regulators, as it did before beginning to use coronavirus vaccines last year.

“Any wait or delay in making the decision would cost lives. More people would develop serious morbidity or die,” he said.

Horowitz, who at 56 is too young to get a third dose, said his parents will get booster shots.

He was also asked about the prospect that the government will impose further restrictions to stem the rise in cases.

“My policy is a balanced policy,” he said, stressing his aim was to balance the fight against the virus with allowing Israelis to work and go to school. “I don’t want a lockdown and will refrain [from] a lockdown at all costs. There were terrible consequences.”

On Sunday, Ash said that both the health and education ministries wanted schools to open as normal on September 1, and that the government aimed to avoid any lockdowns over the coming Jewish holidays.

“I hope we will be able to get through the holidays without further restrictions,” he said.

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