Daily coronavirus cases reached another high, with Health Ministry data released Tuesday morning showing 2,212 new confirmed carriers a day earlier, numbers not seen since mid-March.
There were 138 patients in serious condition as of Tuesday morning, an increase of 17 over the night before.
The Health Ministry said the number of active cases stood at 13,147, with the death toll steady at 6,461.
The rate of positive tests rose above 2 percent for the first time since March on Sunday, and still remained above that level on Monday, when 2.3% of tests gave a positive result out of 92,707 samples taken.
The Kan public broadcaster said that 203 of the cases diagnosed on Monday were individuals who had returned from abroad within the previous 10 days. According to figures cited by Channel 12, some 2,000 travelers infected with COVID-19 entered Israel this month.
However, just one locality was classified as “red,” denoting high levels of infection — the southern city of Kiryat Malachi.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, on a visit to Rabin Medical Center in the central city of Petah Tikva on Tuesday, said that action needed to be taken in the face of the quickly rising caseload.
“We are seeing a rapid rate of infection and we have taken steps,” Horowitz said. “Unfortunately the numbers are expected to continue to rise, and we must not be indifferent to it.”
Horowitz also addressed the question of whether Israelis will soon be offered a third dose of the coronavirus vaccines, saying that there were enough supplies if needed.
“We are in contact with the regulatory authorities regarding the possibility of giving a third dose. If and when we decide to do so, Israel will be prepared with a stockpile of vaccines for everyone,” Horowitz said.
As of Tuesday, 5,767,009 people in Israel had received at least one vaccine dose, and 5,321,379 were fully vaccinated.
Pfizer has been seeking FDA authorization for a third shot, though the US regulator and some Israeli health officials have said there is no evidence boosters are needed at this time. Israel is currently offering a third dose only to the immunocompromised.
Prof. Gili Regev-Yochay, the director of Sheba Medical Center’s Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit, told Army Radio on Tuesday that the rise in new cases was expected but that the increase in the number of patients in serious condition and on ventilators was a more significant metric.
“I don’t think anyone expects the numbers to go down; obviously they will continue to go up,” Regev-Yochay said. “The question is whether we should concern ourselves with the number of verified cases, or start counting a little differently — those in serious condition and on ventilators. There is no doubt that there is a rise that needs to be addressed.”
While the number of COVID patients in serious condition is rising, it is still a fraction of the peak seen during the third wave, in January, when there were more than 1,200 serious cases. During the second wave in the fall, serious cases hit a peak of 850 in October.
Earlier this month, the coronavirus cabinet agreed that “the leading parameter” for instating new COVID restrictions would be the number of serious cases.
At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett vowed to continue “insisting on sustaining livelihoods, the economy, education, and the freedom of Israeli citizens” through the use of masks and vaccines, rather than instituting new lockdowns.
Israeli television reported Monday night that the government had raised the threshold for the number of serious COVID-19 cases before which it will reimpose sweeping lockdown measures, due to the drop in coronavirus patients requiring ventilation.
The Channel 12 news report said that while 1,200 serious patients had been thought of as the maximum level hospitals could handle in past waves, that figure was based not on available beds but on the need for extra medical staff to help treat those on ventilators.