Health Ministry data released on Thursday showed that serious coronavirus cases in Israel had dropped below 700 for the first time since the end of December, as separate figures showed that some 87 percent of Israel’s non-Haredi and non-Arab adult population have either received the COVID-19 vaccine or recovered from the disease.
According to ministry figures, there were 4,143 new cases diagnosed on Wednesday, bringing the tally since the start of the pandemic to 791,319, including 42,276 active cases.
Of them, 699 were in serious condition, including 261 classified as critical and 224 patients on ventilators.
The death toll rose to 5,815.
Additionally, 4,859,948 Israelis have received the first vaccine dose, of whom 3,576,379 have also received the second. Several million Israelis are ineligible for the vaccine, most of them under the age of 16.
According to Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute, some 87% of all Israelis aged 16 and up who aren’t ultra-Orthodox or Arab have either recovered from COVID-19 or received at least one vaccine dose.
The equivalent figure for the ultra-Orthodox community was 72%, while the lowest immunization rate, 64%, has been observed among Arab Israelis.
The basic reproduction number, or R0, crept back below 1 to 0.99, meaning the outbreak is now very slightly abating, a military task force said on Thursday.
The R0 is the number of new cases stemming from each coronavirus infection, or the number of people who caught the virus from each infected person. Any number lower than 1 means the pandemic is slowing down, while a number above 1 means it is expanding. The figures are based on new case numbers from 10 days earlier due to the virus’s incubation period.
Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said this week that a planned further reopening of businesses planned for Sunday could be stopped if the R0 number was above 1.1 when the cabinet met on Thursday.
However, unnamed health officials told the Maariv newspaper that there were concerns the reopening plan was being influenced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political considerations ahead of the March 23 elections.
“In recent days there has been a general disappointment in the [Health] Ministry about the prime minister’s conduct. He has been very much with us all the way but we suddenly feel that the election is affecting his considerations,” the source said.
Meanwhile, a Health Ministry employee is reportedly under investigation for allegedly assisting an individual in forging certificates of vaccination or recovery, which are required to enter some venues.
According to Army Radio, the probe began after a counterfeiter posted a message on Telegram saying that an “internal source” helped them overcome security measures and enter customer names into the computerized system.
The forger also posted videos of customers with their counterfeit certification.
Asked for comment by Army Radio, the Israel Police said it would neither confirm nor deny the investigation.
A black market for counterfeit vaccination certificates is thriving on Telegram, where more than 100,000 users have joined groups that offer the forgeries at a price, Channel 12 news reported.
Telegram has been under fire by the Health Ministry for being a “fake news stronghold,” based on the assessment of a team that has been scouring the internet for misinformation that could dissuade people from getting vaccinated.