Israel Faces Possible New Covid Restrictions as New Variant Takes Hold of Nation
At the beginning of June, Israel was registering slightly more than 2,000 Covid cases a day; however, the volume has jumped to more than 7,000 each day and a local professor, who participated in the development of the coronavirus vaccine, warns the situation in the country might deteriorate.
On Friday, more than 7,300 people tested positive for COVID-19, more than three times as many the amount registered in Israel at the beginning of this month. The number of patients in a severe condition has risen to 140 people
"The situation is far from stable," says Professor Cyrille Cohen, member of the advisory committee for clinical trials of coronavirus vaccine at the Ministry of Health.
"This is still not a wave. But the percentage of positive tests is so high that one in every four people is sick with the virus. And the problem is that we don't even know the actual numbers because many are not even tested officially [they take a home test - ed.]," he stresses.
The reason for the spike in numbers is the spread of three variants of COVID-19. The one that seems to be prevailing now is Ba5, a variant of the Omicron which is believed to be more infectious than previous strains and the one that's already accounting for more than 20 percent of cases in the US alone
That same strain has also been registered in Portugal, which has a population which is similar in size to Israel's. There, Ba5 is already accounts for some 87 percent of all cases, and it is believed that this variant will become the dominant one in Europe within a short period of time. The concern is that the same fate may befall Israel in the coming weeks, Cohen emphasises
"What's important is the situation in Israeli hospitals. It wouldn't surprise me if numbers of patients in a severe condition reach 350 within a few days and, if that happens, Israeli authorities will need to take appropriate measures".
After the fifth wave receded in March with a fall in daily cases, Israel began to lift the COVID-19 restrictions, including the ban on mass gatherings. The green pass - that allowed only those who had been vaccinated to enter public institutions - was dropped. The insistence on wearing masks in enclosed spaces was cancelled.
Now, however, Israel might reinstate some of these restrictions. Several days ago, local authorities advised people to don masks in enclosed spaces and at mass gatherings and should the situation worsen, Israelis might find this measure rolled out further. Those who break the law, will be heavily fined
"Masks are the easiest measure but not the most effective. Reintroduction of the green pass is not relevant either and the only thing that does seem to be effective is a combination of Israel's previous exposure to the Delta variant and the three vaccines," Cohen explains.
According to recent data, more than six million of Israel's nine million population have been vaccinated with two doses of Pfizer. Nearly five million people have received a third shot. A few have opted for a fourth one. A fifth inoculation, says Cohen, is simply not needed at this stage
"What we know now is that vaccines cannot prevent transmission. What we are using today is a vaccine that came to light two years ago, but the virus has evolved enormously since then".
"So the best thing we can tell people now is to be cautious, to avoid gatherings unless absolutely necessary. And to wear masks even if they do not give full protection. This virus won't go away. We need to learn to live next to it," Cohen says.