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Serious COVID cases will strain hospitals for weeks, senior health official warns

Health Ministry figure says medical centers will have to cut back on non-essential treatments and surgery for next three weeks to deal with expected influx

A patient in the COVID-19 ward at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on January 20, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A patient in the COVID-19 ward at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on January 20, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A senior Health Ministry official warned Sunday that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 will inevitably continue to drive a rise in the number of seriously ill patients, straining the country’s hospitals and forcing them to cut back on non-essential treatments.

Though the wave of virus infections fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant has been showing signs of waning, the number of seriously ill patients has continued to rise. The unnamed official said that it will take a few weeks for the steady drop in COVID infections to also bring down the number of seriously ill patients, which will continue to rise in the short term.

The health care system will prepare for the expected influx by reducing non-urgent treatments and surgical procedures in the coming three weeks, the official said.

“There will be another two or three difficult weeks in the hospitals,” the unnamed official told Channel 12 news. “I estimate that we will not pass 1,300 seriously ill patients, but the truth is that even if the number is higher we don’t at the moment have the real tools to stop such a rise and, therefore, we don’t have a red line.

“The only way to deal with a rise in the number of seriously ill is through reducing non-essential surgery and treatments in hospitals, despite the serious consequences for those being treated, because we have no choice,” he said.

In previous waves of COVID the number of seriously ill patients tends to lag roughly two weeks behind the overall infection curve as the wave passes.

Nonetheless, the official drew optimism from assessments that the rise in seriously ill patients is expected to slow down in the near future along with a steady drop in the number of doctors and nurses who are in quarantine due to infection.

The number of medical staff in isolation was a key challenge for hospitals during the current wave, impacting their ability to maintain ongoing activities.

Health Ministry figures released Monday morning showed there were 1,099 patients in serious condition with the virus, up by seven from the night before. In total, there were 2,683 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, of whom 332 were considered in critical condition.

There were 7,576 medical staff members in quarantine, among them 1,078 doctors and 2,493 nurses. Overall, the bed capacity of the country’s hospitals and medical centers was at 69.6 percent. However, seriously ill COVID patients require a relatively large number of medical staff per patient, making their treatment a greater strain on hospitals.

While the number of seriously ill patients has climbed from just 101 at the beginning of the month to over a thousand, the daily caseload has been steadily declining from over 80,000 recorded twice last week to 74,312 on Sunday.

There were a total of 421,490 active virus patients in the country on Monday, a drop of some 20,000 from the day before

With the deaths of 19 more people on Sunday, the toll since the start of the pandemic in early 2020 rose to 8,724.

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