Israel’s death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic crossed 10,000 people on Monday evening, according to the Health Ministry.
The somber milestone was marked as the second anniversary of the outbreak in Israel approaches, and as the country nears the end of its fifth coronavirus wave.
As of Monday evening, 10,001 people with COVID have died in Israel since the pandemic began, including 228 over the past week. More than 1,750 of them died in 2022.
According to the Health Ministry, 52 percent of all COVID deaths in Israel were among those over age 80, and 76.6% were among those over age 70.
In recent months, officials have hotly debated how many COVID-linked deaths — and serious cases — were directly caused by the virus, or merely incidental to it.
Prof. Cyrille Cohen, a Bar-Ilan University-affiliated immunologist and researcher, told Army Radio on Monday that there’s still not enough known about the disease to be certain.
“We’re not experienced enough to give the correct numbers,” said Cohen. “It could be that some of these people with preexisting conditions could have lived another few years, and COVID gave them the final push.”
During a briefing last week, government COVID czar Salman Zarka rejected claims that the number of deaths was inflated.
“We have a virus that is unfortunately particularly deadly among the elderly population,” Zarka said. “With every death announcement we receive, we hold a dialogue with the ward, with the hospital, if the reason was because of COVID. All of the figures are displayed only after they have been reviewed.”
Dror Mevorach, the head of the COVID ward at Hadassah-Ein Kerem, told Army Radio last week that most of his patients are “relatively elderly, with pre-existing conditions,” but “many of them have a significantly shorter life expectancy [due to] COVID.”
Despite the morbid milestone, signs on Monday continued to point to the end of the fifth COVID wave, as serious cases dropped below 800 for the first time in a month, according to the latest statistics from the Health Ministry.
As of Monday evening, there were 120,713 active COVID cases in the country, with 1,657 of them hospitalized, 772 of those in serious condition and 248 of them on ventilators.
Government ministers are reportedly weighing the potential of lifting the indoor mask mandate in the coming weeks, but no final decision has been made.
At a Meretz faction meeting on Monday, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said he is not rushing to remove masks.
“I’m not burning to give up on masks,” Horowitz said. “Masks are not a restriction, they will be with us for a while longer.”