Serious COVID patients lowest in a month, as vaccine effect appears to show

7.8% positive test rate is lowest since January 16, Health Ministry figures show; however, data indicates outbreak still not abating in non-Haredi areas

Jerusalemites shop at the Mahane Yehuda Market on February 9, 2021, as Israel exits its third lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Jerusalemites shop at the Mahane Yehuda Market on February 9, 2021, as Israel exits its third lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The widespread vaccination campaign was finally showing initial signs of curbing the coronavirus outbreak on Wednesday, with the test positivity rate going down and the number of serious patients reaching its lowest point in a month.

Figures published by the Health Ministry showed that 6,602 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed on Tuesday, with 7.8 percent of all tests returning positive, the lowest figure since January 16. On Monday, the positivity rate was 8.9%.

Total cases since the start of the pandemic reached 706,416, including 70,444 active cases.

Of them, 1,020 were in serious condition, the lowest tally since January 10. They included 388 in critical condition and 317 on ventilators.

The death toll grew to 5,233.

The ministry said 3,607,920 Israelis of a population of 9.29 million had received at least one vaccine dose, with 2,223,906 of them also getting the second shot.

According to the ministry, some 20% of those aged 50 and up — or about 365,000 people — haven’t yet been vaccinated.

The country’s basic reproduction number, or R0 — a key epidemiological benchmark representing the average number of people each virus carrier infects — has dropped to 0.93.

However, that was mainly due to the situation improving among the ultra-Orthodox. Among Arabs and among the rest of the Jewish population, the number is still over 1, meaning the outbreak is still worsening.

An Israeli health worker waits for people to come get vaccinated at a largely empty Clalit Health Services vaccination station on February 7, 2021 in the northern city of Herzliya. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

The fast-spreading British variant of the coronavirus has been blamed for the failure of weeks of lockdown to rein in the spread.

The Health Ministry on Tuesday presented ministers with a plan to gradually reopen the economy after the nationwide lockdown, as businesses threatened to revolt and open this week in defiance of the government.

According to the plan, which lays out targets and sets conditions for moving from one stage to the other, the economic restart will be split into three stages. The proposal, reported by Hebrew media, envisions reopening gyms, malls, hotels and other sites in two weeks’ time to the vaccinated and to Israelis with a negative coronavirus test. Coffee shops and restaurants would be open to the general public by early March.

The coronavirus cabinet on Tuesday evening approved the education section of the reopening stages. The ministers debated the rest of the Health Ministry framework, but did not vote on the proposal.

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