A fifth coronavirus wave has started in Israel, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday night. He addressed the public at a press briefing as the number of Omicron cases identified in the country rose to 175, up 40 from Friday.
“We were the first in the world to close the entry to Israel to foreigners,” Bennett said in his opening remarks. “We needed to buy time and keep the variant as far away from Israel as possible. The time we bought is running out.
“Omicron is already in the country, from the Knesset to kindergartens, and it is spreading fast,” the prime minister noted. “The numbers are not high yet, but it’s a highly contagious variant, and at the rate of doubling every two to three days, as we see all over the world, it can be said that the fifth wave has begun.”
Of those 175 cases, the majority (113) entered Israel from abroad – specifically from South Africa, the UK, France, the US, the UAE, Hungary, Italy, Namibia, Tanzania, Germany, Morocco, Spain, Serbia, Belgium, Cyprus and Turkey. In addition, 31 are individuals who were in contact with returnees, and 17 were infected in the community. The ministry was still checking the origin of infection of another 14 people. Out of 175 virus carriers, 122 are fully vaccinated, 53 are not, while the status of one is unknown.
Moreover, another 380 individuals in Israel are highly suspected of having contracted the variant: 211 inbound travelers, 46 through contacts with them, and 123 in the community.
Of the total 555 cases either verified or suspected, 325 virus carriers are asymptomatic and 229 are experiencing symptoms (the status of one is unknown). Meanwhile, the number of cases is increasing.
In general, in the past few days morbidity in Israel has been on the rise, although is not clear yet whether the development is caused by Delta – which at the moment remains the prevalent strain in the country – or Omicron.In the week of December 12-18, an average of 694 new cases per day were recorded. The previous week there were 613, and the week before that 519.
On Saturday, 372 new virus carriers were identified. On the previous Saturday, they were 235.
On Sunday, the R rate – which measures how many people each virus carrier infects on average – hit 1.15, the highest figure in more than three months.
At the same time, serious morbidity remains stable – with 81 patients in serious condition, similar to previous days.
In his address, Bennett asked the public to wear masks and practice social distancing. He also asked private employers to allow their workers to work from home when possible, adding that regulations in this direction will soon be passed for the public sector.
He also appealed to Israeli parents to vaccinate their children. “The children’s vaccine is safe, and it’s the parents’ responsibility,” he said. “Do not leave your children exposed and vulnerable to Omicron.”
The authorities have been concerned because the drive to inoculate children ages five-11 has been proceeding slowly. As of Sunday morning, only 7% of children turning five in 2021 and 13% of those between six and 11 had received at least one shot, out of an eligible population of over one million.
The numbers have been especially low in communities from a low socioeconomic status, as Bennett noted.“In cities with a high socioeconomic level, such as Ramat Hasharon and Modi’in-Maccabim-Reut, we see that the vaccination rate among children is over 30% child – which is a great start,” he said. "However, in places like Netivot, Tiberias and many Arab localities, we see a fraction of a percent: 3%, 2% and even less. It bothers me a lot."
“We are fortunate to live in a country that cares for everyone, and we, the Israeli government, take care of making vaccines accessible and buying them in every way, but in the end, you parents have a responsibility,” he added.Earlier in the day, a Knesset spokesperson announced that MKs were required to enter isolation on Sunday after it emerged that they might have been exposed to the coronavirus Omicron variant.
The MKs were in contact with a reporter at the Knesset Channel who tested positive for COVID – with a suspicion that he might have been infected by the Omicron variant. Last week, a Knesset security guard was found to have contracted the new variant. In the following days, it emerged that another four staffers had COVID, one of them considered likely to have caught Omicron.
As a result, dozens of Knesset employees and MKs were asked to isolate – since according to the measures introduced against the new variant, fully vaccinated individuals must also quarantine if there is reason to believe they have been infected with it.