Just 2.1% of COVID-19 tests positive, lowest since December 1

Virus transmission rate lowest since October, as 4 million fully vaccinated; health minister urges roughly 1 million eligible citizens who haven’t been inoculated to get the shot

People in Jerusalem, March 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People in Jerusalem, March 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel’s coronavirus outbreak continued its rapid diminishment Wednesday amid the widespread vaccination campaign, with the rate of positive test results hitting its lowest point in more than three months.

According to Health Ministry data, the positive test rate recorded for Tuesday stood at just 2.1 percent, continuing a steep decline since January, when it was more than 10%.

It was the lowest figure since December 1.

Coronavirus infections in Israel have fallen across the board in recent months, a decline credited to the country’s successful vaccination campaign.

The number of serious COVID-19 cases dropped below 600 on Tuesday for the first time in over two months. The number stood at 578 serious cases as of Wednesday morning, Health Ministry data showed. They include 270 classified as critical.

The number of serious cases peaked at 1,237 on January 17 and was last under 600 on December 25.

There were 25,941 active cases in Israel as of Wednesday morning, including 1,472 new confirmed infections on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases since the start of the pandemic to 823,314.

The death toll climbed to 6,051. Israel has a death rate of nearly 695 per 1 million people, according to the Oxford-based Our World in Data. The global average is 340 per 1 million people.

An Israeli receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot at a Leumit vaccination center in Tel Aviv, March 8, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, said that the basic reproduction number is falling at a much faster rate than it did when Israel exited its previous lockdown, a move considered by many experts to have been too hasty and to have led to the third wave of infections.

The number, which measures how many people each virus carrier infects on average, was 0.7 on Wednesday, the lowest since October, indicating that the outbreak was subsiding. It has been declining despite Israel’s economy mostly reopening.

Meanwhile, a report by a military task force advising the Health Ministry showed that the number of Israelis fully vaccinated against COVID-19 has surpassed 4 million.

The data showed 5,140,261 Israelis have received at least the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and 4,362,416 have received both doses.

In Israel, people are considered fully vaccinated a week after they receive a second dose. There are some 4,011,000 people who meet that criterion, according to the report.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein touted that figure, tweeting that “more than 4,000,000 are eligible for a Green Pass as of this morning.”

However, the Green Pass — unlike the vaccination certificate — can also be obtained by almost 800,000 Israelis who have recovered from COVID-19. About 104,000 of them have also received a vaccine dose recently, after the rules changed to make it available to them.

“There are still a million Israelis who can get vaccinated,” Edelstein wrote. Israel’s population numbers around 9.3 million, but around 3 million of them are under the age of 16, meaning they cannot yet be vaccinated.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein during a visit to a COVID-19 vaccination center in northern Israel, February 9, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

“We can already see how effective the vaccine is and how dangerous the coronavirus is,” the health minister said. “We can see how many places are only open to Green Pass holders. Isn’t it a shame for you to be left behind?”

Real-world evidence from Israel published last week by Pfizer and BioNTech, using data from January 17 to March 6, showed their vaccine is 97% effective in preventing symptomatic disease and 94% effective against asymptomatic disease.

A leading health official said Monday that, while the outbreak in Israel was clearly subsiding, the entrance of new virus variants that may be more resistant to vaccines remained a top concern.

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