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Top health officials say unvaccinated are driving new rise in COVID infections

Health chief acknowledges downward trend ‘stopped a little,’ but says ‘no need to sow panic’; over 50% of cases said to be among kids; vaccinations for 6-11-year-olds start Tuesday

An Israeli health worker prepares a coronavirus vaccine shot against Covid-19, at a health clinic in Katzrin, on November 16, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
An Israeli health worker prepares a coronavirus vaccine shot against Covid-19, at a health clinic in Katzrin, on November 16, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Top health officials on Friday said unvaccinated people were behind most new coronavirus cases, as a key measure of morbidity indicated COVID-19 was spreading again.

After the coronavirus reproduction rate (R-number) hit 1 in the morning for the first time since early September, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said the sustained decline in infections since Israel’s fourth wave peaked has “stopped a little” in recent days, but insisted morbidity was not rising again.

Horowitz told the Kan public broadcaster that most new infections were among the unvaccinated, and attributed the rise in the R-number — which measures the number of new cases resulting from each infection — to Israelis who were lax in following the government’s COVID rules.

According to the broadcaster, over 50 percent of cases are among children younger than 11, who cannot yet be vaccinated.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said earlier Friday that Israel will begin to vaccinate children aged 5-11 starting Tuesday, after a delivery of kids-sized Pfizer-BioNTech doses had been delayed by a week.

According to Hebrew media reports, the first shipment with hundreds of thousands of doses will arrive Sunday.

Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public services at the Health Ministry, said 76% of new infections were among people who were not vaccinated at all. She said a further 12% were those who had not received a booster shot.

She said health officials were keeping an eye on morbidity figures.

“We are watching and worried, but not getting hysterical,” she said in an interview with Channel 12 news.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz speaks during a press conference near Tel Aviv, November 9, 2021. on In the middle is Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public services at the Health Ministry, and to her right is Salman Zarka, the national coronavirus czar. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Alroy-Preis also said Israel would not follow Austria in mandating vaccinations, a move announced Friday amid surging infections in numerous countries in Europe.

Asked about the possibility Israel could slap restrictions on European travel, Horowitz said limitations could be imposed on any nation that becomes “red” in the Health Ministry’s classification system for morbidity.

“There is no need to sow panic,” he said.

Horowitz also told Kan that there would not be a lockdown. “We won’t close entire branches [of the economy],” he said.

Earlier, Hebrew media reports said health officials warned restrictions could be imposed if the COVID rates continue to rise.

Despite the rising R-number, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and serious cases saw a small drop Friday. As of Friday morning, there were 5,202 active COVID cases in Israel, with 173 of them hospitalized, 126 in serious condition and 87 on ventilators.

A month ago, there were more than 300 Israelis with COVID in serious condition.

The number of seriously ill patients is taken as a key indicator of the gravity of virus waves, as those are the patients requiring hospital care, drawing on medical resources.

Hospital workers wearing safety work in the coronavirus ward at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, on October 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Vaccination with two shots and a follow-up booster is already available to all those aged 12 and up in Israel.

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