With COVID trending down, Health Ministry said set to recommend opening schools

Officials will back return to classrooms on September 1, reports say, and expect serious cases to drop to some 500 by mid-September

Israeli students going to school in Tel Aviv, on April 18, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Israeli students going to school in Tel Aviv, on April 18, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

With COVID-19 infection rates once again moving in a positive direction, the Health Ministry is expected to recommend opening the school year on September 1 as planned, according to several television reports Friday night.

According to Channel 12 news, ministry director-general Nachman Ash views the declining rates as a direct result of Israel’s vaccine booster campaign, with third shots so far given to some 1.9 million people.

Forecasts presented to health officials point to the number of seriously ill dropping from some 700 to 500 by mid-September — a huge turnaround from predictions earlier this month, before the booster campaign entered full swing, that the country could see some 2,400 serious cases by mid-September.

The rate of new COVID-19 patients being hospitalized in serious condition has slowed significantly as a result of the booster vaccine, experts said on Friday, anticipating that the current outbreak has been curbed.

After surpassing 700 concurrent serious cases earlier this week, Health Ministry data on Friday showed there were 689 patients hospitalized in serious condition, in what appeared to be the start of a decline in the country’s fourth virus wave.

Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said in a report that Israel’s drive to administer widespread third COVID-19 vaccine shots had caused the change of trend, along with some reimposed restrictions. They added that in the coming days, the number of daily infections was similarly expected to start slowing down.

The government launched its latest vaccination campaign earlier this month, urging Israelis over 60 (since lowered to over 30) to get their third dose of the vaccine — known as a booster shot — which officials hope will help protect Israel’s most vulnerable from the highly contagious Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

A man receives a coronavirus vaccine booster at a Meuhedet vaccination center in Jerusalem, on August 24, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The current virus wave has been curbed thanks to a combination of the booster drive and soft restrictions,” the report said.

As of Friday evening, 1,922,336 Israelis had been given the third dose.

Eran Segal, a COVID expert and one of the top government advisers to the coronavirus cabinet, said the rate of serious cases out of all new infections dropped from around 2 percent to 1.4% in recent days.

“Meaning, for the same number of infections, there is 30% less serious cases,” Segal tweeted.

The Hebrew University researchers said that among those over the age of 60, the unvaccinated were five times more likely to be hospitalized in serious condition due to COVID-19 complications.

According to the Health Ministry, the rate of serious cases among unvaccinated Israelis over the age of 60 as of Friday morning was 267.6 severe cases per 100,000. Among the fully vaccinated in that age group, the figure was 19.2 per 100,000, and among the partially vaccinated it was 58.7 per 100,000.

“Fully vaccinated” refers to Israelis who have received two or three doses, while “partially” means just a single dose.

But with the opening of the school year next week, the researchers warned that the number of daily infections would slightly rise again. However, with the booster vaccine, a rise in serious cases is not expected, they said in the report.

The start of the school year will also see the start of a vaccination campaign at school for students 12 and up, contingent on a letter of approval from parents, which officials hope will help further curb the pandemic.

The number of people who have died of the disease since the onset of the pandemic rose to 6,947 on Friday.

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