Some 12,869 new coronavirus cases were recorded in Israel on Sunday, with a positive return rate of 20.48% for the 62,852 PCR and antigen tests taken, Health Ministry data showed on Monday morning.
A significant rise in a week
This number is a significant increase in comparison to the previous day when only 7,783 new cases were reported. However, due to it being the weekend combined with the Purim holiday, testing rates were significantly lower, with only somewhat over half the number of people taking a coronavirus test (36,760), possibly resulting in a lower number of reported cases than would have been seen otherwise.
However, the number of infections is undoubtedly on the rise again, with the R rate currently standing at 1.23, in comparison to 0.86 last week.
When the R exceeds one, the number of cases will keep increasing until the spread is brought back under control again. As of right now, the number has been rising significantly in the last week, after decreasing steadily during the previous month.
The last time more than 12,000 coronavirus cases were recorded in a single day was almost exactly a month ago on February 22.
The number of serious patients has not risen, however, and currently stands at 328, with 160 patients considered to be in critical condition. Of that number, 143 are intubated and 20 patients are connected to ECMO machines.
Over the past seven days, there have only been 25 new coronavirus related deaths, bringing the number recorded since the start of the pandemic to 10,431.
Is the BA.2 variant responsible?
While it is unclear whether the rise in cases is caused by renewed tourism, the BA.2 variant, or a combination of both, there is little doubt that infections will continue to rise, especially following the Purim festivities that took place across the country late last week. The results of the holiday will likely become evident in the coming days as it is still too early to tell.
ON SUNDAY, 623 coronavirus cases were detected in people who had entered Israel from abroad within the last five days. Some 74 of those cases were detected in people entering from France, where a 36% increase in cases is currently being reported in comparison to a week earlier.
Another 70 COVID-19 cases were found in travelers entering Israel from Italy, 55 from Austria and 37 from the UK, where a significant surge in cases is also underway.
All in all, COVID-19 cases worldwide, which were decreasing steadily for the past few weeks, are now on the rise again, according to a report from the World Health Organization on March 15.
“After a consistent decrease in the number of new COVID-19 cases reported globally on a weekly basis since the end of January 2022, during the week of March 7-13, 2022, the number of new weekly cases has increased by 8% as compared to the previous week,” reads the WHO report.
“Across the six WHO regions, over 11 million new cases and just over 43,000 new deaths were reported,” it adds.
According to the report, the majority of COVID-19 cases worldwide are being caused by Omicron and its sub-variants, which have yet to be classified as variants of concern, and are rather still grouped under the overarching Omicron variant umbrella. Aside from Omicron, the report states, the only other variant still circulating at a significant level is Delta.
“During the last six months, a significant decline in the circulation of the VOCs [variants of concern] Alpha, Beta and Gamma has been observed in all six WHO regions,” the report says, adding that “over the past 90 days, few to no sequences of these variants have been reported.”
Therefore, it is correct that the COVID-19 infection spikes worldwide are largely being attributed to the BA.2 sub-variant, with the UK saying it is likely due to a combination of the variant, removal of restrictions, and waning vaccine immunity.
It is therefore likely that Israel’s rise in cases, while less dramatic than the UK’s, can be attributed to a similar combination of causes.
The BA.2 variant is considered to be an estimated 30% more transmissible than its Omicron predecessor, which had been the most infectious variant seen up until that time.
Israel not yet mulling restrictions
ISRAEL’S GOVERNMENT has not yet reinstated any coronavirus restrictions that were removed over the last few weeks, although they have said they are monitoring the situation. In the meantime, people have been instructed to keep wearing masks in public spaces, a restriction that will be reevaluated in the run-up to Passover.
The Health Ministry is also considering reinstating the need for passengers to present a negative PCR test before boarding a flight, which was deemed no longer necessary just three weeks ago on March 1.
The government was not expecting the number of daily infections to be rising as quickly as it currently is, a Health Ministry official told KAN News on Monday evening. These numbers do not reflect the high number of cases that will undoubtedly come as a result of Purim, she added.
In a few weeks, there will be a significant increase in serious cases and hospitalizations, the Health Ministry representative said, something the country and the health system must prepare for.
Also speaking to KAN, Prof. Gili Regev-Yochay, director of the Infection Prevention and Control Unit at Sheba Medical Center, said that in contrast to comments made earlier in the week by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in which he called the virus endemic, she would be more cautious.
“I wouldn’t call it endemic, but we are at a stage where we know what to expect from a coronavirus wave,” she stated, saying that nevertheless, numbers are rising significantly.
While the government has yet to make any changes regarding the current coronavirus policies, they are taking steps to decide what will be done, should this increase in cases continue.
This may include reinstating the need to wear masks when attending outdoor events, and the education system may reinstate the need for students to take twice-weekly antigen tests.
Israel’s caution and the decision to keep monitoring the rise in cases – while not making any changes in either adding or removing restrictions – appears for now to be in line with the current WHO recommendations.
“WHO advises member states to consider applying risk-based approaches that take into account different aspects of the epidemic,” the situational report said in summary.