The number of patients seriously ill with COVID-19 climbed to 306, according to Health Ministry daily figures published Friday, up from 283 the previous day and with another 40,430 new cases diagnosed in the previous 24 hours.
There was no additional loss of life from the disease on Thursday and the death toll stood at 8,293, according to the data available Friday.
Of the 306 patients in serious condition, 86 were critically ill and 76 were on ventilators. Another 120 patients are currently hospitalized in moderate condition and 451 are suffering mild symptoms.
Of the 319,572 virus tests carried out Thursday, 12.65% confirmed infection, the newest data showed, in a continuation of the high positive rate seen over the past week. There were currently close to 250,000 active COVID-19 patients overall across the country.
Israel is, however, reportedly seeing a slow rise in the number of seriously ill patients who need to be ventilated due to infection with the Omicron variant, compared to previous waves.
Though highly infectious, the Omicron strain now dominating the country is considered less virulent than previous variants, and Health Ministry figures show that the number of both seriously ill patients and deaths is lower than rates seen in the past.
By way of comparison, the death toll was 8,224 a month ago, and stood at 8,176 in late November when the Omicron variant was first discovered by South Africa.
The 70 deaths recorded as a result of COVID-19 over the past month, compared to much higher death rates earlier in the pandemic, seem to be a sign of both the effectiveness of vaccines as well as the differences seen with the Omicron variant.
In August-September 2021, when the country was in the grip of a wave of Delta variant infectious, daily deaths averaged over 20 for a period of a few weeks, whereas throughout the current wave the toll has remained in single digits, and usually below five.
Similarly, the number of patients who deteriorated into serious condition each day during the previous wave in the same period ranged from around 70-110, whereas the peak number in the current outbreak, recorded on Tuesday, was 72 with the number usually half that amount.
Nonetheless, infections on Thursday drove 38,605 more people into isolation through exposure to a known virus carrier, bringing the total in quarantine due to exposure to 178,988 in addition to the 248,192 active patients, 968 of which were currently hospitalized.
On Thursday, new rules for quarantine began, shortening isolation for asymptomatic COVID patients from 10 days down to seven. But those still displaying symptoms throughout the full week will be required to keep isolating for a total of 10 days.
Government coronavirus czar Salman Zarka said Thursday that as COVID infection rates surge and increasing numbers of medical staff are infected, non-essential treatments may need to be temporarily frozen.
During a live online briefing, Zarka said that the numbers of absent health workers, as well as rising numbers of COVID, flu and other patients, has placed immense pressure on the health system.
Rising infection “brings us immense challenges in terms of preserving essential services,” said Zarka, and health officials are therefore considering “minimizing non-essential treatments.”
Zarka said that such decisions are likely to be made on a hospital-by-hospital basis, depending on the availability of medical staff and hospital beds.
As of Thursday morning, there were 5,657 medical staffers nationwide in quarantine due to infection or exposure, according to the Health Ministry, including 767 doctors and more than 1,500 nurses.
But Zarka warned that those rates could continue to rise, in particular among the elderly and high risk.
“We’re starting to see it, we’re starting to see more people hospitalized, some with Omicron, some with Delta,” said Zarka. “I’m worried that the wave, in terms of serious cases, will only start now, and we’ll see [a rise in] those seriously ill [patients] and those on ventilators.”
Israel is currently offering fourth vaccination doses to those over 60 or in high-risk groups. According to Health Ministry data, 506,022 people have received the fourth dose as of Friday morning. Some 6,665,249 Israelis received the first jab, of which 6,006,927 got their second shot. Of those, 4,381,906 have also received their third shots, or boosters, according to the ministry.