Top health expert: Omicron unlikely to cause more serious cases than Delta

Eran Segal argues newly added restrictions no longer relevant; says weaker strain rapidly taking over country, may cause 2 million cases within several weeks before dipping

People shop at the market in the central town of Ramle, on December 31, 2021.(Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
People shop at the market in the central town of Ramle, on December 31, 2021.(Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

One of the top health advisers to the government said Saturday that while Israel will likely set a new record for case numbers in the coming weeks as the Omicron wave peaks, he expects the number of serious cases to remain at a manageable rate for hospitals, and not to surpass those seen during the height of the Delta wave in the summer.

Eran Segal, a computational biologist for the Weizmann Institute of Science, told Channel 12 that Israel will likely hit 10,000 daily cases by the end of the coming week and 20,000 cases a day the week after that. On Friday, 5,466 new cases were identified.

Segal speculated that in three weeks, there will be roughly two million active cases in the country, but that at that point, cases will fall as the country reaches a “kind of herd immunity.”

He said he was optimistic that the number of serious cases would remain manageable, due to the combination of the weaker strain of the virus, the arrival of Pfizer’s new antiviral COVID pill, and an increasing number of Israelis now getting vaccinated with booster shots.

In the United Kingdom, scientists are reporting that Omicron carriers are 3-4 times less likely to become seriously ill than in previous waves

The Delta wave last year is believed to have caused some 500,000 total cases in Israel. At its height, some 750 patients were hospitalized in serious condition. As of Saturday afternoon, there were 29,959 active COVID cases, with 185 of them hospitalized, 101 of them in serious condition and 27 of those on respirators.

“While we will break records in terms of cases and there will be a rise in the serious cases, [the latter] will not pass the records set during previous waves,” Segal told Channel 12.

Eran Segal. (Courtesy)

Segal recommended drawing back some of the restrictions put in place in recent weeks, citing the growing evidence that Omicron is not as dangerous as other waves.

He did not specify which restrictions he thought should be lifted. He did note though that the significant travel restrictions put in place at the end of November, when the variant was identified, managed to slow Omicron’s entry into the country.

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