Omicron may infect another 2.5 million Israelis on wave’s downswing, experts predict

We’re after the peak, but next 2 weeks likely to be just as bad as last 2, says Hebrew U. team modeling infection patterns; 4th shot credited with reducing hospital load by 30%

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

People get tested for COVID-19 at a testing center at Habima square in Tel Aviv on January 4, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
People get tested for COVID-19 at a testing center at Habima square in Tel Aviv on January 4, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A wave of coronavirus infections fueled by the Omicron strain has peaked in Israel, but another millions more could get infected before it subsides, experts from Hebrew University predict.

Based on official tests, the variant has already infected more than 1.5 million people, or about a sixth of all Israelis, since arriving in late November.  At least as many people — and up to 2.5 million — are projected be infected on the back end of the wave over the next two weeks, according to a Hebrew University team which has forecasted COVID stats throughout the pandemic.

“Yes, infections are slowing down, but we’re still very close to the peak, and a tremendous number of people will still be infected as we go ‘downhill’ from the peak,” Prof. Ran Nir-Paz, infectious diseases specialist and part of the interdisciplinary stats team, told The Times of Israel.

He added: “We seem to be following the trajectory from the UK, and the decline in cases there was much slower than the acceleration, which suggests we will continue to have many cases. We hope for a faster decrease in Israel, but what we saw in the UK suggests this may not happen.”

The new modeling was released on Tuesday, as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that Israel is “at the height of the battle” against the variant, and warned: “We still have a difficult 10-14 days ahead of us.”

Nir-Paz emphasized that all his team’s predictions refer to confirmed infections, and that it estimates actual infections are 30 to 100 percent higher than those detected by the state’s test centers, modeling that dovetails with other experts on the actual spread of the disease.

As well as predicting infection patterns, the Hebrew University team estimated that the number of patients in serious condition during the Omicron wave is around 30% lower than expected thanks to the distribution of fourth vaccine doses to those aged 60 or older and those at high-risk.

A Shaare Zedek hospital team member wearing safety gear on a coronavirus ward, on January 20, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The seven-day average for new daily infections has fallen over the last week, from 71,695 to 64,349. However, Nir-Paz suggested that the drop may have been exaggerated as a result of winter storms in recent days keeping those who tested positive via at-home tests from confirming the infection at state testing centers.

He noted that because serious cases often only develop several days after an infection, numbers of patients hospitalized in life-threatening condition would take longer to ebb and “stay high for a while.”

“The fact we seem to have passed the peak means we’re in a good situation but it’s not brilliant, as we still have to do the descent, which can be tricky,” he said. “People can start to relax, but in terms of behavior they should carry on doing all the same things and being cautious.”

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