Israel is experiencing a surge of Covid infections in September, after many months of respite. The Ministry of Health reports that 136 people tested positive yesterday, compared with an average of 74 at the start of the month. However, this number is likely the tip of the iceberg, as many people with Covid-like symptoms are not testing themselves or reporting their results to the authorities.
A more accurate indication of the situation is the number of serious cases of Covid in Israeli hospitals, which has risen from 26 at the beginning of August to 42 as of last Sunday. The Ministry of Health has ordered hospitals to administer PCR tests to all patients to monitor whether Covid morbidity is being underreported.
People testing positive for Covid are under no legal obligation to remain in isolation, but the Ministry of Health recommends that they do so. People at high risk of contracting Covid are advised to wear a mask in public.
No evidence of new variants
The reason for the sudden increase in Covid infections is not clear, but there is no evidence to suggest the existence of new variants that are more dangerous than the existing ones. The most prevalent variant in Israel is still Omicron, which has several sub-variants within it.
One of them is Pirola, which was first identified in Israel and Denmark. However, infection with the previous variant in the Omicron family, XBB.1.5, seems to provide effective immunity against Pirola. Current vaccinations against Covid that are available in Israel include protection against XBB.1.5.
Vaccination campaign continues
Israel was one of the first countries to vaccinate the majority of its population, using mainly the Pfizer vaccine. By March, most Israelis had received two doses of the vaccine and life had returned to normal. However, data from the Health Ministry shows that the level of protection from the vaccine drops over time, especially against the delta variant.
To boost the immunity of its citizens, Israel launched a campaign to administer a third dose of the vaccine to people over 60 in July, and later expanded it to people over 12. So far, more than 2.5 million Israelis have received a booster shot.
The Health Ministry claims that the third dose reduces the risk of infection by 10 times and the risk of severe illness by 20 times. However, some experts have questioned the need and efficacy of the booster shots, as well as their ethical implications for global vaccine equity.
New restrictions imposed
As Covid cases continue to rise, Israel has imposed new restrictions to curb the spread of the virus. Since August 20, “Green Passes” are required to enter restaurants, public pools, museums or any other public place besides parks. The pass is issued to people who have received two vaccine doses or who have recovered from coronavirus.
Children who are not eligible to get vaccinated must also have a pass, which they can obtain by taking a rapid antigen test every 24 hours. This has caused frustration and inconvenience for many parents and children who have to wait in long lines for testing.
The government has also reinstated some travel bans and quarantine requirements for incoming travelers from high-risk countries. In addition, it has urged people to avoid large gatherings and follow social distancing and mask-wearing rules.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has said he will take every action possible to lower the infection rate and avoid going to a fourth lockdown. He has also appealed to Israelis to get vaccinated and protect themselves and others from Covid.