Israel’s COVID transmission rate rises above 1 for first time since January

Daily new cases continue to hover around 7,000; serious cases appear to stabilize, with 326 hospitalized in severe condition and 133 of them connected to ventilators

People some with face masks shop for groceries at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on February 8, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People some with face masks shop for groceries at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on February 8, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Amid growing daily infection numbers, Israel’s R number — the transmission rate of the COVID virus — passed 1 in Israel for the first time since January, according to figures from the Health Ministry on Saturday.

The transmission rate represents the number of people each confirmed patient infects, on average. Any number over 1 signifies that the pandemic is growing.

The latest development comes as rising cases increase fears of a resurgent pandemic.

According to the ministry, the R number stood at 1.02 Saturday, and 7,080 new COVID cases were confirmed on Friday — the highest one-day figure in more than 10 days.

Daily cases have been ticking constantly upwards in recent days.

The total number of active cases in the country stood at 43,600 Saturday. The number of serious cases stood at 326, with 133 of them connected to ventilators. The death toll was at 10,417.

“We are actually moving towards an increase and some kind of spread in terms of new cases, and that may be what we see,” Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute, a top government adviser on the pandemic, told Channel 12 news on Saturday. “We are seeing this in some European countries.”

Segal said that the resurgence is most likely caused by the Omicron subvariant BA.2, which is believed to be more infectious.

People wearing face masks walk in Jerusalem, on February 10, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Segal noted that this could partly be the result of the public “maintaining a full normal daily routine and perhaps also less strict.”

He stressed that “this variant is just as violent as the Omicron — meaning less than the original variants and the Delta strain.

“And also it is estimated that nearly half of the country’s population was infected with the Omicron variant. We know that a person who recovered from Omicron can get reinfected with BA.2, but [the chances are] still small.”

Segal said that considering all these variables, he believed that if a new wave is starting to emerge, it would not be of the same size as the Omicron variant.

BA.2 has been documented to have re-infected some people after an initial case of Omicron. There’s mixed research on whether it causes more severe disease than Omicron, but vaccines appear just as effective against it.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that Israel will keep its indoor mask mandate in place for at least another month. Most of the other COVID-related public health orders have been rolled back.

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