COVID-19: Israel records 1,400 new daily cases, 67% increase in a week

As the country prepares to give the fourth vaccine to its population at risk, breakthrough infections are also increasing.

Coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash visits COVID department, Ziv hospital, Tzfat. (photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
Coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash visits COVID department, Ziv hospital, Tzfat.
(photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)

Morbidity in Israel continued to increase on Thursday, as the country registered 1,400 new cases in the previous 24 hours, the highest number since October.

In the past week, there were 7,085 new virus carriers identified in the country, marking a 67% increase compared with the previous seven days.

One-quarter of the people who tested positive on Wednesday had recently entered the country from abroad. It was 20% of all those infected over the entire week.

In an effort to slow the spread of the new, highly contagious Omicron variant, the country’s borders remain completely closed to foreigners, and dozens of nations in the world have been placed under a travel ban, preventing Israelis from flying there.

In light of the situation, Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai wrote to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett asking him to establish a special inter-ministerial team to advise the government on entry policies for Diaspora Jews.

 Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz at his Meretz party faction meeting, December 13, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz at his Meretz party faction meeting, December 13, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

“For the first time in history, Israel has closed its door repeatedly to the Jewish people time and again, without taking into account the consequences of Israeli policy on the fabric of relations, on our future,” Shai wrote in a letter to Bennett. “The voice of our sisters and brothers, Diaspora Jews, must be taken into account and be heard in the government. This is my personal and ethical obligation, the mandate I was entrusted with.”

Shai said thousands of people had reached out to him asking for help, and that he asked for the committee to include representatives of all the relevant ministries, including the Diaspora Affairs Ministry. The team would regularly convene during times when Israeli borders are closed, in order to monitor the situation and make policy recommendations, including on how to allow the entry of individuals or groups.

“Coronavirus has been with us for two years and will unfortunately continue to accompany us in the coming years as well,” he said, suggesting that in light of this ongoing reality, solutions need to be found.

Meanwhile, as Israel prepared to start vaccinating its at-risk population with a fourth shot, Health Ministry data on Thursday showed that 34% of the virus carriers identified on Wednesday had been vaccinated with a booster. The number of breakthrough infections has risen significantly in the past two weeks.

The Pandemic Response Committee – which recommended the new round of inoculations for individuals over 60, medical staff and immunocompromised patients – cited the rise in infections among those who had received a third dose of the vaccine as one of the reasons behind its decision.

As of Thursday night, Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Nachman Ash still had to approve the recommendation, even though Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said on Wednesday that the drive would start on Sunday.

It is not yet clear whether the increase of morbidity in Israel is caused by the Delta variant, which is still believed to be the most common in the country, or the new highly contagious Omicron.

On Tuesday, there were 341 confirmed Omicron cases and another 800 people highly suspected of having contracted it, according to the latest Health Ministry update. However, the process of genetic sequencing the results of PCR tests to identify the variant responsible for infection takes time, and it is estimated that the actual number of cases is much higher.

At the same time, serious morbidity in the country has remained stable. As of Thursday, there were 83 serious patients in Israel, a number similar to that of previous days.

The authorities remain worried that within days, or at most weeks, both infection and serious patients could reach unprecedented levels. According to reports in Israeli media, Bennett had begun to say behind closed doors that the government might need to impose severe restrictions and even a general lockdown.