search

Israel’s Omicron exit: COVID rules rolled back; expert sees ‘no cloud on horizon’

With tourism opening to the unvaccinated and domestic restrictions easing on March 1, cases are plummeting, hospital wards are emptying out, and the R-0 statistic is diving

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

A woman takes a PCR coronavirus test at a private nursing home in Netanya. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
A woman takes a PCR coronavirus test at a private nursing home in Netanya. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Israel’s two-year-long pandemic-induced national state of emergency will end on Tuesday, as cases are plummeting, hospital wards emptying out, and a top expert says that “there is no cloud on the horizon, for now.”

Prof. Nadav Katz, part of an interdisciplinary team at Hebrew University that has modeled statistics throughout the pandemic, told The Times of Israel on Sunday: “The numbers are falling as we expected and hoped, and it’s very clear that we are well past the crest of the wave.”

Numbers will continue to fall and even though there are new variants, none of them represent a “cloud on the horizon” that is expected to batter Israel’s newly bolstered immunity, he said.

After so many people got infected by Omicron, experts, including those on Katz’s team, expect that widespread immunity will reinforce vaccine immunity to protect Israel from a large outbreak in the near future, even with new variants.

Israel will repeal most coronavirus regulations on Tuesday, as the country transitions from a “state of emergency” to a “special health situation.” The most notable of these are travel restrictions.

Under the new guidelines, both vaccinated and unvaccinated tourists of all ages will be allowed into the country, as long as they submit a negative PCR test before boarding the flight and take another one after landing in Israel. Citizens will no longer need to test before returning home (though it’s suspected that some airlines will still insist on a test); they will need to test upon arrival.

The requirement for children in middle school and high school to take regular antigen tests at home will end, and it will be canceled for younger children on March 10.

Illustrative image: A medical worker processes a rapid antigen test for the coronavirus (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Presenting a green pass, which proves that its holder is vaccinated or has recovered from the virus, has become a prerequisite for far fewer venues in recent weeks, and now won’t be requested at all. And while masks will still be required indoors, the current requirement for masks in some large outdoor gatherings will be canceled.

The changes come as the count of new daily cases has ebbed to less than a seventh of what it was a month ago.

Back then, when the latest wave was at its height, the moving average of new daily diagnoses was about 75,000. The current coronavirus count stands at 10,082 cases per day.

At points in January there were more than half a million people infected — 1 in 20 Israelis — but now there are 77,052.

The following graph shows the stark change in diagnoses. The horizontal axis shows the date and the vertical axis the number of new daily diagnoses, and red represents a moving average.

A graph showing the change in daily COVID diagnoses. The horizontal axis shows the date and the vertical axis the number of new daily diagnoses, and red represents a moving average. (Israel Ministry of Health)

The latest wave ballooned Israel’s death count. When Omicron was discovered, the tally stood at just under 8,200. Now, it’s 10,126, after around 65 deaths per day in early February, based on a moving average. Now, the daily death rate, based on a moving average, is 20.

The next graph shows the number of daily deaths in green, and a moving average in red. The date is on the horizontal axis and the vertical axis is the number of deaths.

A graph showing the number of daily deaths in green, and a moving average in red. The date is on the horizontal axis and the vertical axis is the number of deaths. (Israel Ministry of Health)

On hospital wards, there is always a time lag between a decrease in new cases diagnosed and a significant decrease in patients. This is because it takes time after someone catches coronavirus for them to deteriorate to a state that requires hospitalization.

However, hospitals are now well and truly out of the frantic period, with 1,391 coronavirus patients in total, while three weeks ago, there was almost this number of serious patients alone. The serious patient count has almost halved since February 6, from 1,242 to 620.

The following graph shows the rise and decline in patients over the wave, with serious patients at the bottom in blue, then moderate patients in lime green, and patients in good condition in darker green. The horizontal axis shows the date and the vertical axis shows the number of patients.

A graph showing the rise and decline in patients over the wave, with serous patients at the bottom in blue, then moderate patients in lime green, and patients in a light condition in green. The horizontal axis shows the date and the vertical axis shows the number of patients. (Israel Ministry of Health)

The R statistic has been diving. This assesses how many people, on average, each confirmed patient infects.

The reason that policy-makers care so much about this statistic is that it gives a good indication of whether the caseload is growing or shrinking, depending on whether it is below or above one. It hit 1 on November 8, as Israel was facing rising cases even before Omicron emerged around November 24. It rose until early February, but has now fallen to 0.68.

A graph showing Israel’s R-0 statistic (on the vertical axis) over time (date on horizontal axis). This statistic assesses how many people, on average, each confirmed patient infects. (Israel Ministry of Health)

Katz said there is no way to know whether the pandemic is ending or whether people should just anticipate an extended respite. However, he stressed that cases are unlikely to disappear completely.

“We’re likely to see coronavirus cases continue at a low level, which is exactly what we’ve meant as we’ve talked about living with the virus.”

read more:
comments
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed