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Virus czar: Compulsory quarantine for COVID-19 patients could end next month

Salman Zarka says staying home will still be recommended for those infected; Health Ministry director says 5th round of vaccination being considered but admits public reluctant

A woman talks to a friend from her apartment balcony, during the COVID-19 pandemic in Jerusalem on March 31, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
A woman talks to a friend from her apartment balcony, during the COVID-19 pandemic in Jerusalem on March 31, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

National coronavirus czar Salman Zarka said Tuesday he expects that compulsory quarantine at home for COVID-19 patients will be canceled sometime near the end of next month.

Isolation for patients is one of the last COVID-19 health rules introduced over the past two years to remain in place, along with a requirement to wear face masks in health and medical centers.

In a video press briefing alongside Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash, Zarka said that the recommendation will still be that patients remain at home, but it won’t have to be compulsory “and we will need to tell the public — we trust you.”

Currently, quarantine lasts at least five days following confirmation of infection with a virus test. Those who show no symptoms for 48 hours and are negative on two further virus tests can leave quarantine on the fifth day.

Israel saw its daily virus caseload plummet from tens of thousands to just 2,295 on Monday as it exited its fifth wave of infections.

Israel is preparing for a possible sixth wave of infections even though there is currently no rise in patient numbers, Zarka said. He spoke of the concern that a highly infectious COVID-19 strain such as the Delta variant could resurge. A civilian body is being set up to keep an eye on new variants around the world, he said.

Coronavirus czar Prof. Salman Zarka seen during a press conference near Tel Aviv, on November 9, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Zarka predicted that if 2022 passes without another wave of infections, then by 2023 life will be able to return to pre-COVID-19 days.

So far over 6.1 million Israelis have had a least two vaccination shots, 4.49 million have had three doses, and 812,003 have had four.

Ash spoke of the “dilemma” posed by the prospect of conducting a possible fifth round of COVID-19 vaccinations before the winter.

“It will be a big challenge to convince people to take a fifth vaccination, and that will influence the decision,” he said.

“At the moment, there is no evidence to justify a fifth vaccination,” Ash added, but he noted the matter was under consideration.

Zarka said that immunity deteriorates over time in both former patients and those who were vaccinated. As a result, by September or October, Israel’s population will be largely unprotected. Officials will meet on the matter at the end of June, he said.

Earlier this month, Israel ended the requirement for COVID-19 testing upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport. Israeli and foreign travelers are also no longer required to provide a negative test result prior to boarding a flight to Israel.

The rules were updated due to declining COVID-19 morbidity, the Health Ministry said, and apply at all air, land and sea crossings.

The death toll since the start of the pandemic in Israel was 10,852, according to Tuesday figures from the Health Ministry. There were 4,138,523 virus cases.

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