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Nearly 4,000 new cases as virus surge brings rise in serious patients, transmission

Daily cases nearly triple in a week; PM said to warn surge may leave hospitals on verge of collapse; Pfizer pill shipment set to arrive; 1st case recorded of both COVID and flu

Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital team members in the coronavirus ward in Jerusalem on December 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital team members in the coronavirus ward in Jerusalem on December 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

There were nearly 4,000 new cases of the coronavirus diagnosed on Wednesday as Israel’s surge in infections driven by the Omicron variant continued at full force.

The Health Ministry said Thursday that 3,947 cases were confirmed a day earlier — nearly triple the number last Wednesday, when just 1,418 cases were confirmed that day.

In addition to the nearly 4,000 new cases, a further 1,059 diagnoses since midnight pushed active infections past 20,000 — more than double the figure recorded a week earlier.

Alongside the rising morbidity figures, there was an increase in serious cases from 84 on Wednesday morning to 94 on Thursday morning. Of those patients, 46 were defined as critical. The majority of seriously ill patients are unvaccinated.

Serious cases have not yet seen a similar surge, and have largely plateaued over the past few weeks. Experts expect that to change soon as the outbreak intensifies, despite the milder illness believed to be caused by Omicron.

Meanwhile, the transmission rate continued its steady rise, reaching 1.62. The transmission rate, representing the average number of people infected by each virus carrier, is based on data from 10 days earlier and any value above 1 shows that the pandemic is growing.

The Health Ministry also reported a further increase in the positive test rate, reaching 2.93 percent, in another sign that the spread of the virus was accelerating.

Health care workers test Israelis in a drive through complex to check if they have been infected with the coronavirus in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The national death toll from the pandemic stood at 8,243.

Under the “traffic light” program to rate infection levels, 11 localities are now defined as “red” areas — the West Bank settlements of Ma’ale Adumin and Revava, as well as Kiryat Ono, Tzur Hadassah, Rishon Lezion, Hod Hasharon, Mevasseret Zion, Yavne, Yad Binyamin, Azor and Shtulim.

According to Health Ministry data, a number of localities are nearing a “red” classification, including Ra’anana and Ramat Hasharon.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly said in discussions with officials on Wednesday that the expected a dramatic increase in cases in the near future, caused by the highly-contagious Omicron, could lead to “Israel’s ability to respond being stretched to the edge.”

According to Army Radio, the premier said that he was setting up a team that would operate under the moniker “Plan B,” to create a traffic light system aimed at easing congestion in hospitals.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting, on December 26, 2021. (Gil Eliyahu/Pool/Flash90)

Meanwhile, authorities announced Thursday the first recorded case of an individual infected with both the flu and the coronavirus at the same time. The two infections were found in an unvaccinated pregnant woman who had mild symptoms. Israel has seen a spike in flu cases in recent weeks, with close to 2,000 people hospitalized amid fears of a “twindemic” of the two infections.

In a new prong of attack against the pandemic, the Kan public broadcaster said Israel was set to receive its first shipment on Thursday of 20,000 doses of Pfizer’s antiviral COVID-19 pills. Israel has reportedly finalized an agreement with the pharma giant to purchase about 100,000 doses of the medication.

Patients will be able to take the drug at home to head off the worst effects of the virus. The pill is said to decrease the risk of hospitalization and death in high-risk groups by 90%.

Army Radio said Thursday that Israel is also in negotiation with AstraZeneca over the purchase of its new COVID-19 antibody drug.

The surge in cases came hours after new guidelines were agreed upon whereby vaccinated or recovered people in quarantine due to exposure to coronavirus carriers can exit after a negative antigen test.

Until now, only PCR tests were eligible to shorten quarantine. Under the new guidelines, a negative rapid antigen test can also be used, but not a home test. If the antigen test is positive, a PCR test will be required.

The move is a further step after quarantine restrictions were eased, as Israel looks to avoid having hundreds of thousands of people in isolation as the Omicron variant surges.

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