Omicron wave could mark end of pandemic, Israeli COVID expert says

Eran Segal says medications, vaccines, natural immunity will help wipe out the coronavirus, ‘at least as the pandemic we have come to know in the past 2 years’

People wearing face masks are seen in central Jerusalem, January 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People wearing face masks are seen in central Jerusalem, January 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prof. Eran Segal, a leading government adviser on COVID-19 policy, said Monday that the fast-spreading Omicron variant could mark the end of the pandemic as it has been experienced over the past two years.

Asked by Channel 12 news whether Omicron will “kill the coronavirus,” Segal responded: “That’s truly the big question that we all want the answer to. It can be assessed that, yes, and the hope is that yes [it will].”

The Omicron variant, which studies have shown generally leads to less severe infection than the Delta variant did, particularly among those who have been vaccinated, has raised long-awaited hopes that COVID-19 is starting to shift from a pandemic to a more manageable endemic illness like seasonal flu.

“But we’ve learned over and over, in the past two years, that this virus can mislead and surprise. There may be additional variants. But the more time passes, the better our tools to fight it,” he said.

“We have medicines now. We have the vaccines. There’ll be natural immunity of perhaps over half the populace in Israel and other countries. All those things — one can hope — will help to end the coronavirus, at least as the pandemic we have come to know in the past two years,” Segal added.

Health Ministry statistics released on Monday evening showed 83,663 new infections recorded a day earlier, shattering the previous record of daily cases set on Thursday, which was close to 75,000. With more than 437,000 PCR and antigen tests carried out on Sunday, the positivity rate stood at 22.21 percent.

Eran Segal. (courtesy)

As of Monday evening, 550,751 Israelis were actively infected, with 2,173 hospitalized, 817 of those in serious condition and 163 on ventilators. A week ago, serious cases stood at 459, and two weeks ago the figure was just 215.

Over the past two weeks, more than 850,000 Israelis have tested positive for COVID, with experts believing that the actual figure could be several times higher. In the past week, 126 Israelis with COVID died — a 106.6% increase over the past week — bringing the total death toll since the start of the pandemic to 8,481. A month ago, the average weekly death toll was less than 10.

On Sunday, 183 new serious COVID cases were registered, a daily peak during the current wave and a high not seen since January 2021.

Health Ministry Director General Nachman Ash instructed hospital directors on Monday to prepare for a potential delay to other, non-life-saving treatments. In a letter to directors of hospitals across Israel, Ash said they should be prepared for an influx of COVID patients and should clear beds to make room, including in wards not dedicated to treating the virus.

Segal said that, while he believes Israel is “nearing the end of this wave,” the chance of getting infected now “is the highest it has been since the outbreak of the pandemic.” He said that becoming infected with COVID “is not inevitable; these are the days that we must be careful — in particular those who are at high risk.”

Amy Spiro and AFP contributed to this report.

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