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With most Israelis now fully vaccinated, virus spread continues sharp drop-off

Positive tests rates reach lowest level since last June; only 470 new patients diagnosed Wednesday

Students receive COVID-19 vaccine injections, at Amal high school in the southern city of Beersheba, March 17, 2021. (Flash90)
Students receive COVID-19 vaccine injections, at Amal high school in the southern city of Beersheba, March 17, 2021. (Flash90)

The positive test rate identifying infections tumbled to its lowest level in nearly a year, the Health Ministry said Thursday, as the country reached the milestone of immunizing over half against COVID-19.

Figures released by the ministry showed the positive rate for virus tests analyzed Wednesday was just 1.3%, the lowest level since June 2020. A week ago the positive test rate was 2% and a week before that it was 3%.

The numbers have continued a steep decline since January, when the positive test rate reached over 10%.

There were only 470 new patients diagnosed Wednesday, according to the ministry. Since the start of the pandemic, 830,515 people in Israel have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and the number of active patients is 12,906. The death toll Thursday reached 6,157.

In a further indication of shrinking infections, the virus’s basic reproduction number, representing the average number of people each virus carrier infects, was given as 0.55, having dropped from a value of 0.59 given the day before. Any figure under 1 means the outbreak is abating. The figure represents the situation as of 10 days ago due to the incubation period.

Ministry data also showed that 50.07% of the population have now received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that Israel is using for its national COVID-19 inoculation program. Those who have received at least the first dose amount to 55.96% of the population.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein at the annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group in Jerusalem, on March 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We have crossed the 50% mark of all Israeli citizens vaccinated with the second dose,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein tweeted. “Due to them, Israel is beating the coronavirus. All that remains is to follow the instructions so that the coronavirus does not return.”

Recent infection figures represent a dramatic improvement over the past two months, credited chiefly to the successful vaccination campaign. The success comes despite more-infectious virus variants proliferating and the gradual lifting of restrictions.

Israel’s morbidity rates have continued to steadily even as the country has been rolling back virus restrictions, which at their peak shuttered the entire education system, public venues, and most nonessential businesses.

Most of the education system has since reopened, along with much of the economy. Limited audiences have been allowed at sports and cultural venues, with the coronavirus cabinet recently approving increasing capacity at such events.

Gatherings on the Jewish holiday of Passover next week will be permitted to take place in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines — up to 20 people indoors and 50 people outdoors, according to the ministry.

The ministry said Wednesday that it will authorize next month’s Independence Day and Memorial Day events to take place, although with fewer participants than usual.

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