Officials to discuss easing more COVID restrictions as Omicron wave recedes further

Health Ministry may lift recommendation to mask at outdoor gatherings; transmission rate, new daily case numbers continue to fall

People wearing face masks walk in Jerusalem, on February 10, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People wearing face masks walk in Jerusalem, on February 10, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Officials are expected to discuss lifting additional coronavirus-related restrictions next week, as Health Ministry data released Friday showed the Omicron-driven wave continuing to ebb.

The number of serious patients has remained elevated during the gradual decline in morbidity over the past few days, standing at 1,074 on Friday. But that’s down from Sunday’s 1,259, the highest number recorded in Israel since the onset of the pandemic.

Of those currently in serious condition, 267 are on ventilators.

In total, 2,354 people were hospitalized Friday with COVID-19, of whom 346 were in critical condition, according to ministry figures.

The Health Ministry said serious cases were far more common for the unvaccinated. Among unvaccinated patients 60 and up, there were 361.1 serious cases per 100,000 people, compared with 30.4 for their vaccinated peers.

There were 27,723 new coronavirus cases diagnosed on Thursday, as the number of active cases fell to 303,188. Last month, some 70,000 new cases were diagnosed daily, based on a weekly average, and active cases surged passed 500,000. Experts estimated the true number of cases was much higher.

Of some 135,000 tests conducted on Thursday, the positive test rate was 21.75%, a decrease from a day earlier, when over 25% of tests came back positive.

A medical worker conducts COVID-19 rapid antigen tests, at a testing center in Beit Hashmonai, on January 16, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The transmission rate (measuring the average number of people each infected person spreads the virus to) continued to fall, reaching a value of 0.76 — its lowest figure since October.

The transmission rate is based on data from 10 days earlier and any value below 1 shows that the pandemic is shrinking. In December, the value shot up to 2.12, but has since been on the decline.

The death toll since the start of the pandemic stood at 9,431, with at least 285 fatalities from COVID-19 complications in the past week, the Health Ministry said. That figure marked a 28% decrease in coronavirus deaths compared to the previous week.

Health Ministry officials are expected to discuss easing certain virus restrictions next week, including the recommendation to wear a face mask at outdoor gatherings, according to Hebrew media reports Friday.

There has been no outdoor mask mandate in Israel since April last year, but the ministry had still recommended wearing one while in crowds.

Face masks are still required to be worn in indoor public areas.

Earlier this week, Israel further relaxed Green Pass requirements, as the virus wave continued to decline. The document showing proof of vaccination, recovery or a recent negative COVID-19 test, no longer needs to be presented at restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, and hotels.

Proof of a valid Green Pass will still be required upon entry to indoor sites where there is a higher risk for infection, such as event halls and dance clubs.

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