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Israel records first Omicron death, but it’s not clear that’s what he died of

Man in his 60s passes away after being hospitalized at Soroka two weeks earlier for non-COVID-related pre-existing conditions

Medical personnel wearing protective equipment treat a COVID-19 patient in an intensive care ward that has been converted from underground parking, at Rambam Hospital in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, December 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Medical personnel wearing protective equipment treat a COVID-19 patient in an intensive care ward that has been converted from underground parking, at Rambam Hospital in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, December 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba announced Tuesday that a man infected with Omicron had died, in what was believed to be Israel’s first death in a person with the variant.

A statement from Soroka said the man, in his 60s, suffered “many severe” pre-existing medical conditions and died on Monday after a two-week hospitalization.

While he tested positive for the strain it was not entirely clear that he had died as a result of COVID, having been hospitalized as a result of his other conditions and not COVID-induced pneumonia.

Nevertheless, when the hospital tested the man earlier this week, the results showed he indeed had the new strain.

The Health Ministry said Tuesday that 170 new cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus had been confirmed in Israel, doubling the number of total infections.

There have been 341 verified Omicron cases in Israel to date, the Health Ministry said in a statement. Another 807 infections were “highly suspected” to be Omicron cases, but were awaiting verification.

A medic collects a swab sample from a woman at a COVID-19 drive-through testing site in Jerusalem on November 29, 2021. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

The Omicron cases were part of an upward trend of coronavirus infections. On Monday 1,306 cases were recorded, a level last seen in October.

Israel blocked nearly all foreign visitors last month after Omicron was detected in South Africa, just weeks after permitting tourists to enter for the first time since the pandemic began.

More than 4.1 million Israelis have received three doses of a coronavirus vaccine in the country of roughly 9.3 million people.

But inoculation rates remain low among young children. Around 12% of those aged five to 11 have received a single coronavirus jab.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told ministers Tuesday that there was no avoiding a fifth wave of the pandemic.

“We cannot prevent the [next] wave. It’s just not a possibility,” he told members of the so-called coronavirus cabinet tasked with leading the government’s pandemic policy. “But we can certainly give the citizens of Israel the tools to protect themselves, mainly from serious illness if some of them become infected.”

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