Israel cuts quarantine for asymptomatic COVID patients to 7 days

Top health official says move will help the economy function while safeguarding public health, amid record surge in cases

A Magen David Adom health worker takes a swab sample at a drive-thru coronavirus testing complex in Jerusalem, on January 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A Magen David Adom health worker takes a swab sample at a drive-thru coronavirus testing complex in Jerusalem, on January 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash on Tuesday approved shortening the required quarantine period for Israelis who test positive for COVID-19 to a week, providing they are asymptomatic for the last three of those seven days.

Those still displaying symptoms throughout the week will be required to isolate for 10 days, in line with the current quarantine policy for anyone infected with coronavirus.

A ministry statement announcing the new guidelines said that in recent testing on patients infected with Omicron, most individuals did not have viable virus samples in their blood after a week. Researchers detected living virus in only one out of the 15 samples they tested, or six percent, indicating the chance transmitting the virus after a week was low.

“We decided to shorten the number of quarantine days after examining the matter and finding that the chance of [spreading] infection after a week is low,” Ash said. “This decision will help the economy continue to operate in conditions of high morbidity, while safeguarding public health.”

The change was slated to take effect at midnight between Wednesday and Thursday.

“We won’t mandate people stay in quarantine longer than necessary, in order to protect their health as well as the economy, education, culture and to continue normal life as much as possible alongside COVID,” Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said in the statement.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz (right) speaks with Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash during a press conference in Jerusalem, on December 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The shortening of the mandatory isolation time for COVID carriers was recommended Monday by a panel of health experts advising the Health Ministry.

The move came amid a record surge in morbidity that is sending an increasing number of people into quarantine, leading to concerns of economic fallout as many are unable to work because they are sick, quarantined, or need to care for an infected child unable to attend school.

According to Hebrew media reports, some government ministers have called for slashing the quarantine period to five days due to fears of a labor shortage. The Kan public broadcaster said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was shown an estimate that 30 percent of the workforce could be required to quarantine within the next week.

In a television interview Monday, Ash said health officials believed a five-day quarantine period, as recommended by the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, was too short.

Bennett said keeping the economy functioning was a priority in a speech on Tuesday night.

“The market will stay open as much as possible and the economy will still be working,” Bennett said. “I don’t want to see people losing their jobs, closing their businesses.”

Israel has confirmed a staggering number of new infections in the past week, with each day breaking records.

On Monday, there were 37,887 new cases recorded, and the positive test rate passed 11%, indicating that many cases were likely going undetected.

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