Israel confirmed over 300 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the highest daily rate since April, amid a resurgence of COVID-19 in the heavily vaccinated country.
The Health Ministry recorded 307 new infections Wednesday, bringing the number of active cases to 1,990. The number of serious cases, which stood at 22 on Tuesday, rose to 29, including 17 on ventilators, according to the data released Thursday.
Over 59,000 tests were conducted Wednesday, with the positivity rate standing at 0.6 percent.
The spike in cases, blamed on the ultra-infectious Delta variant, comes as Israel races to vaccinate its preteens and teenagers aged 12-15, with over 16,000 first-shot immunizations administered Wednesday.
The Health Ministry expects daily coronavirus diagnoses to jump to 500-600 next week, according to media reports Wednesday.
According to Haaretz, officials are considering bringing back the “Green Pass” system that differentiates between vaccinated and non-vaccinated citizens regarding access to certain venues and activities.
The program, which ended on June 1, allowed those vaccinated or recovered from the coronavirus to dine indoors at restaurants and attend cultural events.
According to the daily, health officials are also considering bringing back the “Purple Badge” system which sets certain requirements on businesses to allow them to operate.
The Delta variant of the virus, first identified in India, is more contagious than other variants and may be better able to bypass vaccines, but is believed to not cause serious infection among the vaccinated. The variant is believed to be around 40% more contagious than the original strain, according to the United Kingdom’s public health agency. The effectiveness of two vaccine doses for protection from hospitalization is at 96%, according to the agency.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said Wednesday that flights in and out of Israel could be halted once again if the rate of new COVID cases continues to rise.
“The situation at Ben Gurion Airport is the central concern,” Shaked told reporters at Israel’s main airport after touring the terminal. “The simple solution is to close the airport. But the situation today is different than it was, and we’re trying to keep the airport open. But if morbidity rises, the flights will stop.”
Her comments came after Channel 12 news reported that the Health Ministry’s announced plan to separate those arriving from “banned” countries from other travelers at the airport was already facing trouble.
With case numbers rising, Israel has thus far reimposed an indoor mask mandate and cracked down on travelers arriving from countries with high infection rates or breaking quarantine, but has sought to avoid a return to the restrictions it largely emerged from over the last two months.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appealed to young teens on Sunday to get vaccinated in order to avert restrictions, and declared: “We do not want to impose any limits — not on parties, or on trips or on anything.”
Since authorities launched a renewed drive to vaccinate 12- to 15-year-olds last week, the number of shots distributed daily has climbed back over 10,000 for the first time since early April. That’s when Israel’s world-leading vaccination drive stalled after distributing the vaccine to nearly 5 million people — the majority of its eligible population at the time.
Israel has a reported 1.4 million doses set to expire at the end of July and Bennett is hoping to use as many of them as possible by getting 300,000 children vaccinated by July 9, leaving enough time for a second dose.
According to a Channel 12 report Wednesday night, to prevent vaccines from being tossed, Israel is in advanced talks with the UK to give it millions of Pfizer vaccines within days in return for London supplying it with one of its future shipments from Pfizer at a later date.
Israel purchased millions of vaccines from Pfizer and was among the first countries to receive them, for an undisclosed amount. Despite having millions of unused doses, it inked a deal in April under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for 18 million more doses, in case they are needed for booster shots.