Health officials report surge in babies infected by coronavirus

Number of infants with COVID-19 nearly quadrupled in January over previous month, though most show no symptoms

A staff member works in the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on February 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A staff member works in the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on February 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s third-wave virus outbreak has seen an alarming surge in infections among babies, according to a Wednesday report.

The number of babies under two years old who were diagnosed with COVID-19 in January nearly quadrupled over the previous month, Channel 12 said.

The report said 5,780 infants contracted the virus in January, 1,526 in December and 377 in November.

The numbers only represent the number of infants who have tested positive for the virus — most of the babies who get infected do not get sick, or display only mild symptoms, the Health Ministry said.

The spike in infections was attributed to the proliferation of mutated coronavirus variants that are more infectious than the original virus strain.

The Ziv Medical Center in Safed said that an 18-month-old girl with COVID-19 who was put on a ventilator two days ago is still in critical condition.

The outbreak among babies has sparked fears among health officials because babies are considered a sensitive population and are not approved to receive vaccines.

It also complicated the reopening of schools and preschools, which have been mostly closed for weeks due to the nationwide lockdown.

Children were largely spared during the first two waves of the virus outbreak.

The virus is running rampant in Israel despite the lockdown, Israel’s third, which has not successfully brought down infection numbers.

The British variant is believed to be causing the overwhelming majority of new cases.

The lockdown is set to expire at midnight on Thursday, but the Health Ministry is pushing for an extension until Monday, leaving the fate of schools next week up in the air.

The cabinet is supposed to hold a meeting on the lockdown Wednesday night, after an earlier planned meeting was delayed.

The Health Ministry will recommend reopening kindergartens and some school grades in low-infection cities and towns from next week, according to Army Radio. These include first and second grades, along with 11th and 12th, the report said.

Most large cities are designated as high infection areas and will therefore not be eligible, however.

In addition to schools being closed, the lockdown has shuttered most commerce, limited movement and gatherings, and closed Israel’s main airport to commercial flights.

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