12,554: Israel reports all-time high for new daily COVID-19 infections

Record number comes amid confusion over regulations and massive lines at testing centers; serious cases continue to rise, most of them unvaccinated

A Magen David worker take a COVID-19 rapid antigen test to detect coronavirus, at a screening center in Jerusalem, on December 30, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A Magen David worker take a COVID-19 rapid antigen test to detect coronavirus, at a screening center in Jerusalem, on December 30, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel has recorded its highest-ever number of new coronavirus infections — driven by the ultra-contagious Omicron variant — despite restrictions on travel and required quarantines, the government reported on Wednesday.

The record of 12,554 cases diagnosed on Tuesday marks the most new infections reported in a single day since the start of the pandemic. The previous record was set September 2 with 11,345 new infections logged during the Delta variant’s wave.

Omicron, first detected in South Africa, is apparently more contagious but causes less cases of severe illness and death — especially among vaccinated people.

As the highly infectious Omicron variant drives the fifth wave of infections, the positive test rate on Tuesday reached 6.6 percent out of the 189,700 tests carried out.

The Health Ministry said the virus transmission number, R, indicating how many people each infected person passes on the virus too, had climbed to 1.94. The transmission rate is based on data from 10 days earlier and values above 1 show infections are spreading — the higher the number, the faster the rate.

With the number of cases rising there has also been an increase in the number of those seriously ill. Health Ministry figures showed there are now 125 patients in serious condition as of Wednesday morning, up from 117 the day before. There were 46 people defined as critical.

A week ago, there were just 87 patients in serious condition. The vast majority of those in serious condition are unvaccinated. (At the height of the Delta wave, Israel had some 700 patients in serious condition.)

People, some wearing protective face masks, line up for PCR and Rapid Antigen COVID-19 coronavirus tests in Tel Aviv, Jan. 4, 2022 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

With no fatalities over the past 24 hours, the death toll stood at 8,247.

In Israel as elsewhere, the variant is spreading so fast — straining testing, schools, hospitals and airlines — that some experts are urging a focus instead on hospital admissions. Those, as well as deaths from coronavirus, aren’t climbing as quickly — the result, experts say, of protections offered by vaccinations.

The vaccinated population has been steadily on the rise, but is limited in part by some in the ultra-Orthodox and Arab sectors of the population who have been slow to roll up their sleeves. There is additionally a vocal anti-vaccination lobby.

About 63% of people in Israel have been vaccinated twice, while around 46% have received three shots. There was no data on how many have received the recently available fourth dose of the vaccine.

A man receives his fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccine in a private nursing home in Petah Tikva, Jan. 4, 2022 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Israel is believed to be the first country to widely roll out a fourth vaccination to people 60 and older, as well as those with compromised immune systems.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday said early results from a study at Sheba Medical Center showed a nearly fivefold increase in antibodies among people with a fourth shot.

However, Israel’s vaccination program — once world-leading — is faltering. Our World in Data ranks Israel 17th in the world for vaccination rates, behind nations like the United Arab Emirates and the United States — and just ahead of archrival Iran. Back in June, Israel was No. 1 on the list.

The rapid climb in infections has pushed Israeli leaders far from the clear protocol of vaccinations, testing, quarantining and contact tracing that characterized the government’s response early in the pandemic.

Israel is rapidly changing rules and practices to adapt, including scaling back quarantines to keep the economy from shutting down. More changes are expected.

This aerial view shows cars lined up at a drive-thru testing site for the coronavirus, in Modiin, on January 2, 2022. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

Contact tracing has become more complicated given the shortage of tests. The government plans on tightening requirements for testing to ease the burden on overloaded testing stations, where people have been forced to wait for hours to be checked. New rules are expected soon that will focus testing requirements on high-risk groups, such as older people.

Meanwhile, there is chaos in the education system with the ever-changing rules leaving parents, students and schools baffled.

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