Top health official says Israel heading toward ‘normalization’ with COVID-19

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis maintains that restrictions need to remain for now due to still-high daily infection count; credits vaccine with decline in serious illnesses and death

People on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on January 2, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on January 2, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A top health official on Monday said that the country is heading toward resuming normal life alongside the coronavirus pandemic.

“You could say that we are near ‘normalization’ with the virus, so to speak,” Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the ministry’s director of public health, told the Ynet news site. “We are moving in that direction through various steps. Children in schools no longer need to quarantine; same with people returning from abroad.”

The comments came as Israel started seeing data pointing to a renewed retreat of the pandemic, with the rate of spread dropping below 1 for the first time in two weeks, indicating that COVID-19 carriers are transmitting the virus on to a diminishing number of people.

Despite the upbeat assessment, Alroy-Preis noted that new variants will continue to pose a threat of renewed outbreaks.

“[We need to] keep in mind that the speed at which variants and changes occur is very high, so we’re still keeping restrictions and monitoring what is happening abroad, to make sure we identify any potential danger. This is different from all kinds of respiratory viruses. Here we are still in a world that is not entirely certain,” she said.

Alroy-Preis stressed the continued importance of the vaccine in controlling the virus, saying that it is the reason for the lack of an increase in serious cases and mortality despite a recent uptick in cases.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem about new coronavirus restrictions, December 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Alroy-Preis dismissed the possibility that officials would lift a face mask mandate for closed spaces anytime soon.

“We are still seeing thousands of new cases daily, so the guidelines for wearing a face mask indoors remain, and I highly recommend that everyone follow them,” she said.

The last several days have seen around 10,000 new cases each day, down from around 14,000 in late March.

According to the latest Health Ministry data, of the 59,638 people who were tested for the virus on Sunday, 17.88% percent received a positive result — 10,664 cases.

A technician collects nasal swab samples for COVID-19 at a coronavirus lab at Ben Gurion Airport on March 2, 2022 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

There were 58,341 active infections, including 254 hospital patients in serious condition, of whom 98 were on ventilators. Both severe and ventilated cases have continued to decline despite the recent uptick in infections.

The death toll stood at 10,530.

Health officials have in part attributed the recent rise in cases to the BA.2 variant, a subvariant of Omicron that is believed to be more infectious than the original.

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