COVID-19: Quarantine for infected to be shortened from 10 to 7 days

COVID czar: With 600 serious patients, Israel might lockdown • 32,000 infected, 222 serious patients • Coronavirus cabinet to meet on Tuesday

  People wait in line for Coronavirus tests at Cinema City, Jerusalem, January 9, 2022 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
People wait in line for Coronavirus tests at Cinema City, Jerusalem, January 9, 2022
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The quarantine for people infected with the coronavirus will be shortened from 10 to seven days, the Health Ministry said Monday. The Pandemic Response Committee recommended the move in light of the high number of infections and the lower chance of transmitting the virus after seven days.

The decision was confirmed by Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Nachman Ash in an interview on Channel 12.Earlier in the day, coronavirus commissioner Prof. Salman Zarka said if the number of patients in serious condition reaches 600, a full lockdown might need to be imposed. There were about 32,000 new cases on Sunday, marking a new record, the Health Ministry reported.
“Based on our experience of previous waves and some academic studies, when there are more than 600 patients in serious condition, the quality of healthcare cannot be the same,” Zarka said in a press briefing.
“It is very important that we do not reach such numbers,” he said. “If we do, we might need to raise a red flag and recommend to the government more significant limitations on the economy and even a lockdown.”
“I do not think we are there, and I hope we are not going to get there,” Zarka said. “But if, God forbid, the situation with morbidity and especially with the health system will require us to recommend it, we will do so.”
 The new Green Pass (left) compared to the old one (right) (credit: HEALTH MINISTRY) The new Green Pass (left) compared to the old one (right) (credit: HEALTH MINISTRY)
At last count on Monday, there were 222 coronavirus patients in serious condition. There were hundreds of patients in serious condition in previous waves, but the rapid pace of the increase is causing alarm. Last Monday, there were fewer than half as many.
At the peak of the third wave in January-February 2021, there were about 1,200 patients in serious condition; during the Delta wave in the summer, there were more than 750.
However, Ash there would need to be about 1,500 patients in serious condition to require such strict measures.Many venues or activities currently function under the Green Pass system, and masks need to be worn at gatherings, indoors, and outdoors if there are more than 100 participants. But there are no significant limits to normal life, and health officials have been saying limited measures would not bring any significant benefits.
“We continue to look at the number of patients in serious and critical condition and at the hospitals’ overcrowding, not only caused by the coronavirus but also by the flu and by staff in quarantine,” Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of the Health Ministry’s Public Health Services, said Monday.
“The moment we see numbers that concern us, we will for sure need more significant restrictions,” she told Army Radio.
Of the 32,000 new cases registered on Sunday, around 21,500 virus carriers were identified among those who underwent a PCR test and another 10,000 among those who took an antigen test.
Until last Friday, those who tested positive for antigens needed to take a PCR to confirm the diagnoses and were not counted among the infected until they did so. In light of the unprecedented infectiousness of the Omicron wave, the authorities have decided to reserve the more accurate PCR tests for people over 60 or those at risk and use antigen tests for the rest of the population, allowing a higher number of individuals to get checked every day.
On Monday, Israel processed more than 160,000 PCRs and 150,000 antigen tests. There were about 134,000 official active cases on Monday, the highest since the beginning of the pandemic, but millions of Israelis are expected to get infected with the virus within a few weeks.
“At the moment, most of the patients in serious condition have been infected with Delta,” Alroy-Preis said. “The problem with Omicron is that the moment such high numbers get infected, even a very small percentage of them becoming serious translates into a high absolute number.”
The authorities hope shortening the isolation time for those infected will alleviate the issue of medical personnel shortages.
Alroy-Preis said everyone should do their best to protect themselves.
“It is important that right now everyone understands that they have to try as much as possible to stay safe, get vaccinated, and avoid gatherings,” she said. “We know that the Green Pass system is not protecting us as it used to, so especially at-risk individuals should be careful.”
The government on Monday decided that starting from Tuesday, a Green Pass will not be required to enter malls, except to enter food courts and restaurants. Malls and stores will operate according to the strict Purple Ribbon standards, limiting the number of customers per square meter.
The Green Pass is granted to individuals who are considered fully vaccinated (two doses or recovered within the previous six months, or have received a booster shot), or temporarily to people who undergo a test and are found negative.
However, the vaccine has proven to be less effective in protecting people from getting infected with Omicron. Over the past few weeks, more than 40% of the new cases have been registered among the vaccinated.
The vaccine still offers some degree of protection against infection and significant protection against serious symptoms, Zarka said.
The coronavirus cabinet is expected to meet on Tuesday to assess the situation, three weeks after its last meeting.