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Rate of new serious COVID cases drops, but virus czar urges caution

Zarka says it’s too early to ease restrictions as Health Ministry reportedly considers canceling mask mandate in light of waning fifth wave

A medical worker tends to a patient infected by the coronavirus, in an isolation ward at the Ziv Medical Centre in Safed, on February 6, 2022 (JALAA MAREY / AFP)
A medical worker tends to a patient infected by the coronavirus, in an isolation ward at the Ziv Medical Centre in Safed, on February 6, 2022 (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

There was a drop in the number of people newly defined as seriously ill with COVID-19, Health Ministry data showed on Sunday, but the coronavirus czar urged caution despite the falling numbers.

Some 99 patients were newly classified in serious condition on Saturday, the lowest number since January 15, when 96 patients in serious condition were diagnosed.

The total number of patients in serious condition was 1,057 as of Sunday morning, with 269 of them on ventilators.

Some 18,020 new COVID cases were diagnosed in Israel on Saturday, the Health Ministry reported, with a positive test rate of 26.12 percent.

While lower than the 22,375 new cases diagnosed on Friday, the number reflects a drop in the number of tests usually conducted on Saturdays. Just over 76,000 samples were taken, compared to some 100,000 the previous day.

The death toll stood at 9,466.

Despite the decline in new cases and a sense of optimism shared by some health experts in recent days, coronavirus czar Salman Zarka on Sunday morning expressed a more cautious approach.

Coronavirus czar Salman Zarka attends a press conference about the coronavirus, in Jerusalem on August 29, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“It’s still early to say that the fifth wave is behind us,” he told the Kan public broadcaster.

Addressing reports that the Health Ministry was considering a series of steps to ease COVID restrictions, including lifting the requirement to wear masks indoors, Zarka said such decisions should not be made yet.

“We see a decline, but the [case] numbers are still high,” he said. “It’ll take time before we can say the fifth wave is behind us.”

Zarka noted that the Omicron sub-variant BA.2 has “created a wave within a wave” and has slowed down the declining rate of new cases, raising uncertainty about the future, even when the fifth wave is over.

“The virus has taught us that it can quickly create new variants,” he said. “Even when the fifth wave is over, we’ll never be able to return to the lives we once had.”

People, some wearing face masks, shop at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on January 13, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prof. Eran Segal, a leading government adviser on COVID-19 policy, said on Saturday that Israel would likely see less than 1,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients in serious condition sometime this week.

“We estimate infections will continue to trend downward… and by next week we may have 10,000 or 20,000 cases per day… and by the end of next week we will be under 1,000 serious cases in hospitals, possibly even reaching 800,” Segal told Channel 12 news.

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