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Israel has spent $9.3b fighting COVID, $1.4b of it on vaccines – TV

Health Minister Horowitz pleads for ‘booster’ to health system, as Omicron variant spreads; experts said to tell PM to brace for 20,000 daily cases next week

A nurse holds vaccines against the coronavirus as they arrive at Shaarei Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem, prior to the start of the vaccination of the Israeli population, on December 19, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A nurse holds vaccines against the coronavirus as they arrive at Shaarei Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem, prior to the start of the vaccination of the Israeli population, on December 19, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel has reportedly spent over $9 billion fighting the coronavirus pandemic, Channel 12 news reported Thursday, as Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said the health system desperately needs an economic boost amid the spread of the Omicron variant.

“More hospital beds, more ECMO machines. This is a demand that will save lives and I expect the treasury to understand that there are things that cannot be spared,” Horowitz said during a media briefing.

According to the network, over the past 18 months, Israel has spent NIS 29 billion ($9.3 billion). This includes:

  • NIS 6 billion ($1.93 billion) on tests
  • NIS 4.3 billion ($1.38 billion) on vaccines
  • NIS 500 million ($161 million) on antigen tests for schools
  • NIS 850 million ($274 million) on quarantine hotels
  • NIS 1.3 billion ($419 million) on staffing for various operations centers
  • NIS 250 million ($80 million) on public relations efforts

In March 2020, the Finance Ministry estimated that the damage to Israel’s economy caused by the coronavirus pandemic would amount to NIS 45 billion ($14.5 billion) and wipe out any projected growth.

The Israeli economy did shrink in 2020 by 2.4 percent, according to figures released by the Central Bureau of Statistics. But the data was better than expected, with economic officials having predicted a contraction of at least 3.3%-4.6%. And it was far better than the 5.5% average contraction in OECD countries last year.

Pandemic-related spending pushed Israel’s government deficit to a record high of 11.7% of GDP in 2020, and experts expected the deficit to remain high in 2021 as well.

In October, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that the government was earmarking an additional NIS 10 billion ($3.2 billion) to deal with possible future coronavirus waves.

After securing a state budget for 2021-22 in November, Horowitz reportedly secured a NIS 2 billion ($644 million) increase in funding for health care. The general Health Ministry budget now stands at NIS 5 billion ($1.6 billion).

An Israeli health worker administers a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to a student at the al-Manahel School in the village of Majdal Shams, on December 12, 2021. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The Health Ministry said Thursday evening that 4,053 cases were confirmed a day earlier — nearly triple the number from last Wednesday, when just 1,418 cases were confirmed.

In addition to the over 4,000 new cases, a further 3,212 diagnoses since midnight pushed active infections past 22,000 — more than double the figure recorded a week earlier.

Alongside the rising morbidity figures, serious cases reached 92 on Thursday night. Of those patients, 45 were defined as critical. The majority of seriously ill patients are unvaccinated.

Serious cases have not yet seen a similar surge as the overall number, and have largely plateaued over the past few weeks. Experts expect that to change soon as the outbreak spreads more widely, despite the milder illness believed to be caused by Omicron.

Hebrew University researchers have warned the government that by the end of January, the number of serious cases could balloon to between 1,000 and 2,500.

Health experts also told Bennett Thursday that Israel could see 20,000 new daily cases by next week, and that case numbers will rise for the next three weeks, peak, and then start to recede, Channel 12 news reported.

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