Expert: Country near peak of Omicron outbreak

Israel world #1 in daily COVID cases per capita; exposed schoolkids won’t quarantine

Starting next Thursday, students to take antigen tests twice a week at home and present negative results when going to school; PM says 'millions' of home tests to be handed out

High school students take a mathematics exam in a school in Yehud, January 20, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Israel is leading the world in new daily COVID-19 cases per capita, data showed Thursday.

Speaking to Channel 12 news, a top health expert advising the government cited figures from Our World in Data showing 0.6 percent of the population was testing positive per day.

The numbers comparing each country’s seven-day running average put Israel at the top, Prof. Eran Segal of The Weizmann Institute said.

But Segal noted it was likely that Israel was not truly the country with the highest infection rate. Rather, he attributed the figures to Israel being a leading country in the number of tests performed each day, relative to its population size.

Israel is followed in the highest daily cases worldwide ranking by Mongolia, Peru, Canada and Georgia.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced Thursday that mandatory quarantine for schoolchildren who were exposed to coronavirus carriers would be scrapped entirely.

According to the plan, starting next Thursday, children up to the age of 18 will no longer need to isolate after being exposed.

Instead, all students — both vaccinated and unvaccinated — will need to conduct two antigen tests a week — on Sundays and Wednesdays — and present negative results when entering educational institutions.

Children who test positive for COVID-19 will still need to isolate until testing negative.

The testing will be done at home, with Bennett announcing “millions” of test kits are to be given out to parents.

The move comes as some 146,000 school-age children were in quarantine due to infection, and a further 142,000 due to exposure, according to Health Ministry data published Wednesday.

“Wherever we can make it easier for the public, we will. We are taking Omicron seriously, but also looking at the bigger picture,” Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton said it was “a brave decision,” adding that “it would have been easier to close the education system, but our duty is to save every boy and girl” from the damage of repeated quarantines.

Only approximately 24 percent of 5- to 11-year-olds have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, and just 13.6% have received two doses, ministry data on Thursday showed.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett gives a televised statement to the press at his office in Jerusalem, on January 20, 2022. (Screenshot/YouTube)

Speaking on the state of the pandemic, Weizmann Institute’s Segal predicted the outbreak sweeping the country will end soon. “We are very close to the height, or even at the height of the Omicron wave,” he told Channel 12 news.

At the peak of the current outbreak wave, Segal said one in ten Israelis will test positive for COVID, if they are tested.

Once Israel passes the peak, he said, “there will be a relatively fast decline” from those figures.

Ministry data showed nearly 65,000 people tested positive for COVID on Wednesday, as current active infections climbed to over 400,000.

Over 2 million have been infected since the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

The number of Israeli patients seriously ill with COVID-19 rose to 593, according to figures published Thursday.

Among those in serious condition, 112 were on ventilators. Overall, 1,680 patients with COVID were hospitalized on Thursday, mostly in light or moderate conditions.

An illustrative photo of rapid antigen home kit tests for coronavirus, on January 9, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Under new isolation rules which began Wednesday, vaccinated people who are infected but asymptomatic need two negative antigen tests, on the fourth and fifth day, to be released from quarantine. Unvaccinated asymptomatic people need the test on the fifth day to be conducted at a recognized testing facility, and cannot rely on a home test.

Those who test positive on the fourth or fifth day are required to keep isolating for a total of seven days, without having to conduct an additional test.

And those still displaying symptoms are required to keep isolating for a total of 10 days.

Unvaccinated people exposed to a confirmed coronavirus carrier must also isolate for five days and get a test on the fifth day at a recognized testing facility. Those with immunity are exempt from quarantine if they test negative after being in close contact with an infected person.

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