COVID-19: Two 6-year-olds die as Israel hits 16,000 cases

There were 16,115 new virus carriers identified in Israel on Wednesday, the highest since the beginning of the pandemic, and almost 4,000 more than the previous day's record.

 Cars line up at a drive-through COVID-19 testing center in Ganey Taaruha Tel Aviv, on January 3, 2022.  (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
Cars line up at a drive-through COVID-19 testing center in Ganey Taaruha Tel Aviv, on January 3, 2022.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

Two six-year-old children with serious underlying conditions died as a result from complications of COVID, the Soroka Medical Center reported on Thursday, as Israel recorded over 16,000 cases on the day before, while the Health and Education spat over testing in schools.

"These are severe cases of children with complex background diseases who became infected with corona and their condition worsened due to the virus,” said Dr. Isaac Lazar, Director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Soroka.

“It is important to vaccinate children to avoid infection and serious illness,” he further said. “Due to the accelerated rate of infection, our concern is that we will begin to see children without background illnesses getting seriously ill as a result of the virus.”

Exactly 16,115 new virus carriers were identified in Israel on Wednesday, almost 4,000 more than the day before, which already marked a new record.

“In three days we will have 30,000 infected and next week 50,000 infected,” Ash said in a press briefing.

 Magen David worker take a COVID-19 rapid antigen test from Israelis, at a Magen David Adom testing center in Jerusalem, on January 05, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Magen David worker take a COVID-19 rapid antigen test from Israelis, at a Magen David Adom testing center in Jerusalem, on January 05, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Almost 8% of the PCR tests processed returned a positive result, also one of the highest rates since the beginning of the pandemic.

The surge in cases has severely strained Israel’s testing capacity, especially with regards to PCRs, the most accurate type of test, which need to be sent to a laboratory.

For the past several days, long lines have been registered at the testing stations and the time to get results – which used to be around 24 hours or less – has stretched to 36 or even 48 hours or more.

For this reason, the authorities decided to radically change the testing requirements, reserving PCRs for the populations at risk – over 60s and individuals with underlying conditions – and allowing younger and healthy individuals to rely on antigen tests – also known as rapid tests, because they do not need lab work and the results are offered within a few minutes.

“The new testing policies place much more weight on the personal responsibility of each individual,” Ash said.

The new guidelines are set to come into effect on Friday.

Ash also said that at the moment changing the green pass system is not being considered because while vaccinated people still get infected they infect less than unvaccinated ones.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry’s announcement that starting from Thursday antigen tests would be available in 3,200 elementary schools all over the country, fueled a new confrontation with the Education Ministry. Earlier in the year, the two bodies fought over isolation policies for students and vaccination in schools.

“The Health Ministry is creating chaos in the education system, we will not allow it to drag it into disarray,” Education Minister Yifat Shasha Biton said in a statement on Thursday.

According to Shasha Biton, the two ministries agreed on the importance of performing tests in schools earlier in the week and to study a detailed outline for it, but the outline was never prepared and the Health Ministry just decided on its own to make the announcement to the press.

The statement added that the Health Ministry had apologized for the move.

“The Health Ministry is entirely invested in dealing with this wave of morbidity, and will not engage in defamation,” the ministry commented in a statement shortly after on Thursday.

It added that the two ministries agreed on a short postponement of the initiative to perform tests in schools and would work together to formulate the best plan for it.

Later in the day, the director-generals of both ministries, Ash and Dalit Stauber met and resolved to strengthen the mutual cooperation.

Currently, around 29,000 of the country’s 72,000 active cases are registered among students and education staff.

As of Thursday morning, 84,000 schoolchildren and 3,000 teachers were in isolation, representing over two-thirds of the Israelis in quarantine.

The number of seriously ill patients in Israel also continued to increase. There were 134 as of Thursday. Seven days earlier, there were 91.

While the figure still represents a fraction of the peaks during previous waves – during the third wave the record stood at 1,200 – health officials and experts believe that the situation will quickly change in light of the high number of coronavirus cases that Israel will experience.

The hope is that the characteristics of the new Omicron variant – which appears to cause a milder sickness than Delta – and the new antiviral treatments available in the country will keep the number of hospitalized individuals manageable. Still, hospitals are reopening coronavirus departments to prepare for the influx of patients.

Also on Thursday, the coronavirus cabinet announced that it would convene next week. An exact date has yet to be set.

Meanwhile, two six-year-old children with serious underlying conditions died as a result of complications of COVID, the Soroka Medical Center reported.

“These are severe cases of children with complex background diseases who became infected with corona and their condition worsened due to the virus,” said Dr. Isaac Lazar, Director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Soroka.

“It is important to vaccinate children to avoid infection and serious illness,” he added. “Due to the accelerated rate of infection, our concern is that we will begin to see children without background illnesses getting seriously ill as a result of the virus.”

The country’s death toll stands at 8,259. Eleven people have died in the past week.

Meanwhile, the vaccination drive to give a fourth coronavirus shot to individuals over 60 is proceeding rapidly. Over 132,000 Israelis have already received the new shot in the first three days of operation. Overall, Israel has about 1.6 million residents in this age group.