Hospitals said to be readying to cancel non-urgent surgeries

Number of seriously ill COVID patients rises, with over 48,000 new virus cases

Data shows that though new case numbers are breaking records, serious illness and deaths still lower than rates in past waves; over 400,000 tests carried out, nearly 12% positive

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Shaare Zedek hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on January 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shaare Zedek hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on January 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The number of patients seriously ill with COVID-19 has risen by 35 to 283, according to Health Ministry daily figures published Thursday.

There were 248 patients hospitalized in serious condition on Wednesday and no increase in the number on that day.

The new data showed 48,095 new cases diagnosed in the previous 24 hours, once again breaking the record for a daily caseload.

Of the 879 patients hospitalized in Israel with COVID-19, 76 are considered critical and 65 are on ventilators.

Israel is reportedly seeing a significant drop in the number of seriously ill patients who need to be ventilated due to infection with the Omicron variant, compared to previous waves.

Of the 401,747 virus tests carried out, 11.97% confirmed infection, the newest data showed, in a continuation of the high positive rate seen over the past week. The number of tests was close to the highest ever in a single day, which was recorded in August last year, but at that time the positive rate was only around 6%.

A worker take a COVID-19 rapid antigen test at a testing center in Jerusalem, on January 12, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

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.

The death toll since the start of the pandemic stood at 8,290 on Thursday morning. By way of comparison, the death toll was 8,140 one month earlier, and stood at 7,959 on October 13.

The 331 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 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.

A volunteer with the women’s unit of United Hatzalah emergency service, prepares a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for a woman at Clalit Health Services in Mevaseret Zion, Jan. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Nonetheless, infections on Wednesday drove 37,809 more people into quarantine through exposure to a known virus carrier, bringing the total in isolation due to exposure to 165,550 in addition to the 258,664 active patients who are also in quarantine.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz told the Kan broadcaster that the high number of people in quarantine does not mean the country is effectively in a lockdown, a measure the government is determined to avoid.

“What is happening now is not a hundredth of a lockdown,” he said.

Horowitz added that the Finance Ministry will look into who has suffered economic damage from the outbreak according to specific criteria and offer compensation.

“We will not abandon anyone,” he said. “Certainly life is not as usual and there are disruptions. We are doing everything we can as a country to continue life and keep functioning.”

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz speaks during a press conference at a Maccabi vaccine center for children in Tel Aviv on November 23, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Meanwhile, Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash was expected in the coming days to notify the country’s hospitals that they should cut back on non-urgent surgery and medical treatments, Kan reported. Hospital administrators are to be instructed to assess in-patient levels, serious virus cases, and the number of medical staff who are infected or in quarantine, and adjust services accordingly.

The Health Ministry figures on Thursday showed that 81.7% of hospital beds in the country were filled.

In addition, 5,657 medical staff are either confirmed virus patients or in quarantine. Of those, 767 are doctors and 1,504 are nurses.

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.

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