Positive test rate lowest in months; serious cases below 500

Top health official says fourth COVID wave on the wane, could end soon

Health Ministry director says ‘decline is clear’; virus czar predicts an easing of restrictions in light of ‘significant improvement’; PM seeks to ease quarantine rules for kids

Health Minister Director-General Nachman Ash attends a press conference in Jerusalem on August 29, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Health Minister Director-General Nachman Ash attends a press conference in Jerusalem on August 29, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Health Minister Director General Nachman Ash on Wednesday said he was optimistic about the continuing reduction in COVID-19 morbidity in the country.

“The decline is clear. If we feared it was just a matter of the [High] Holidays [making the numbers look low due to less testing], then today we can say that the trend is unequivocal. Now, we want to see the impact of reopening schools,” Ash told 103 FM radio.

“If we see next week that the trend continues, then yes, we are coming out of this [virus] wave,” he added.

In light of the decline, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Wednesday that he wants schoolkids in cities with low rates of infection to be exempt from quarantine after coming in contact with confirmed virus cases, and instead to conduct testing in classes.

Bennett said that with the government’s “rethinking, and with our navigation of the fourth wave,” the move should begin by next week.

“I ask of you to come up with solutions. I want to give peace of mind to the parents who will be able to go to work and send their children to school, and end the era of uncertainty,” Bennett told a team of experts involved in advising government COVID policy.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on October 5, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90)

“We need to adapt to a declining trend in morbidity, and on the other hand not allow mass infections. There is a delicate balance here,” he added.

Coronavirus czar Salman Zarka, who is spearheading the national efforts to combat the pandemic, said Wednesday that the Health Ministry could ease some so-called Green Pass restrictions.

“Morbidity data show a very significant improvement, so it is our duty to check whether [restrictions] can be eased in places such as outdoor restaurants and pools,” Zarka told Army Radio. “There are professional considerations that say it is right to make it easier on the public.”

But Zarka warned, “We learned a lesson from the end of the third wave: It would be wrong to return to a full opening and throw away the masks too quickly.”

“I don’t know that there won’t be a fifth wave later on. The virus does not play by our rules,” he added.

The high-level coronavirus cabinet ruled this week that enforcement of new Green Pass requirements will begin Thursday, after the previous ones were automatically revoked Sunday.

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

As part of the new rules, venues and businesses that require a Green Pass for entry must scan the permits’ QR codes before granting access to their holders. Though QR codes have existed on the Green Pass since the inception of the system, which is designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, most businesses have forgone scanning them for verification and often simply wave people through with a cursory glance.

Zarka’s Wednesday comments implied some venues and businesses may soon not be required to check entrants for their Green Pass. Cabinet ministers could vote on easing the restrictions later on Wednesday, Channel 12 news reported Thursday evening.

On Tuesday, the number of patients hospitalized in serious condition due to the coronavirus dropped below 500 Tuesday for the first time in nearly two months.

Active infections stood at 35,876 on Wednesday morning, with 2,502 new COVID cases were confirmed the previous day, Health Ministry figures showed.

Of the 115,000 tests conducted on Tuesday, 2.32 percent came back positive, the lowest recorded figure since July 30.

An Illustration of the new green pass, in Jerusalem, October 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The R-value, the reproduction rate of the virus measuring the average number of people each positive person infects, stood at 0.78.

There have been 1,297,726 verified infections since the pandemic began and 7,855 deaths.

According to the Health Ministry, 6,159,094 people in Israel have received at least one vaccine dose and 5,666,867 have gotten two. Another 3,634,984 — close to 40 percent of the population — have been administered a third.

There are still some 800,000 Israelis eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine who have not yet received a single dose, according to ministry data.

The number of serious cases stood at 487, the lowest figure since August 13.

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