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Serious COVID-19 cases again reach all-time high

Israel to start vaccinating citizens aged 55+ Tuesday as infection rate steadies

Lockdown exit to be gradual, according to Health Ministry sources; 1,870,652 people have received their first vaccine shot as second Moderna shipment expected this week

Man receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at a Meuhedet vaccination center in Jerusalem, on January 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Man receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at a Meuhedet vaccination center in Jerusalem, on January 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

All Israelis over the age of 55 will be able to receive the first COVID-19 shot through their health providers starting Tuesday as Israel’s vaccine drive continues to expand, the Health Ministry announced Monday.

Sunday saw 49,897 Israelis receive their first inoculation, bringing the total to 1,870,652 — by far the highest vaccination rate in the world, according to the Our World In Data website. The daily rate for Sunday was similarly the highest in the world.

Netanyahu vowed Sunday that Israel would ramp up its vaccine drive further, to a target of administering 170,000 shots a day, as a new batch of hundreds of thousands of doses of Pfizer’s vaccine touched down at Ben Gurion Airport.

Moderna informed an Israeli shipping firm that it can expect a shipment of up to 480,000 doses of its own COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday or Thursday, Channel 12 news reported. A first Moderna shipment of more than 100,000 doses arrived last week.

The Health Ministry said it was attempting to curb a trend of health maintenance organizations (HMOs) offering vaccines in exchange for switching over to their services. Deputy director of the HMOs supervision department at the ministry warned the HMOs that he was “very serious” about preventing the “cynical use of a national resource for recruiting customers,” adding that it may constitute a criminal offense, the Ynet news site reported.

Comparative statistics on vaccination progress from Our World In Data, January 11, 2021. (Screenshot)

Meanwhile, sources in the Health Ministry told the Kan public broadcaster Monday that the exit from Israel’s latest tightened lockdown, imposed Friday, will be gradual and depend on the vaccination rate and the trend seen in serious COVID-19 cases.

Even once the current closure ends, set for January 21, the economy won’t fully reopen immediately, the Health Ministry sources added.

Ran Balicer, head of the expert panel that advises coronavirus czar Nachman Ash, told Kan that “first signs of stabilization can be seen, but it is difficult to predict” what will happen later.

“In a week and a half it will be easier to make decisions about the continuation [of the lockdown],” Balicer added.

“We are beginning to see signs of a decrease in the infection rate,” Tomer Lotan, a senior official in the Health Ministry COVID-19 response headquarters, told Radio 103FM.

Man at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on January 10, 2021, during a 3rd full lockdown in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to figures released Monday morning by the ministry, 6,780 new coronavirus cases were recorded Sunday, bringing the total number of infections confirmed in Israel since the pandemic began to 495,063, including 69,762 active cases — nearing the record of over 72,000 active cases reached in late September.

Of them, 1,070 were in serious condition — an all-time high — including 242 on ventilators and 304 in critical condition.

The death toll rose to 3,689.

The relatively low number of new cases — compared to last week with over 8,000 a day — can partially be ascribed to the significantly reduced number of tests carried out over the weekend. The highest daily tally since the start of the pandemic was on September 30, when over 9,000 infections were recorded while the country was under a second lockdown.

Hospital staff transport a new patient to the coronavirus ward of the Ziv medical center in the northern Israeli city of Safed, on January 07, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The percentage of positive tests out of total tests was slightly higher, going from 6.7 percent on Friday to 6.3% on Saturday and 7.4% Sunday. Saturday saw 81,894 tests conducted, with 92,023 Sunday, significantly lower than the record high 127,708 recorded Wednesday.

On Saturday, the Health Ministry said that four cases of the highly contagious South African coronavirus strain had been identified in Israel, the first time the mutated variant had been discovered in the country. A British strain that is also particularly contagious is already believed to be prevalent in the Israeli population.

The Health Ministry has emphasized that as with the British variant, there is no evidence the South African variant causes more severe illness, even though it is more contagious.

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