Israel hits highest number of COVID cases in weeks

So far, only 21 individuals in Israel have been found infected with the new Omicron variant.

 Eli Stern prepares to get his shot at a Humber River Hospital vaccination clinic after Canada approved Pfizer's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine for children aged 5 to 11, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada November 25, 2021.  (photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS OSORIO)
Eli Stern prepares to get his shot at a Humber River Hospital vaccination clinic after Canada approved Pfizer's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine for children aged 5 to 11, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada November 25, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS OSORIO)

Israel registered the highest number of COVID cases in a month on Wednesday, a day after all preschoolers and students in grades one through six were required to present a negative coronavirus test to return to school after the Hanukkah break.

There were 786 new virus carriers identified on Tuesday, the Health Ministry reported. A week earlier, they were 607.

Exactly 48% of the new cases are children ages five to 11.

Last month, the cohort became eligible for the vaccine, but the campaign has been going slowly, with less than 100,000 children out of over one million individuals in the age group having received at least one dose as of Wednesday morning.

The Health Ministry decided on Wednesday that people who have been infected with the Omicron variant will be required to spend 14 days in isolation instead of 10.

It said that these individuals will also only be able to leave isolation if they have not experienced symptoms for three days.

A new survey released by the Israel Democracy Institute showed that only 46% of Israelis ages 25-34, and 47% of those ages 35-44 – the groups most likely to have children from ages five to 11 – support vaccinating children, compared to 63% of individuals ages 55-64 and 73% of those over 65.

 A health worker holds up a vial of Imdevimab, an antibody cocktail designed to produce resistance to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at San Giuseppe Hospital, in Albano, Italy, April 22, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/YARA NARDI) A health worker holds up a vial of Imdevimab, an antibody cocktail designed to produce resistance to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at San Giuseppe Hospital, in Albano, Italy, April 22, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/YARA NARDI)

In general, some 56% of Israelis believe that children five through 11 should be inoculated against COVID, with 33% opposing it.

In general, morbidity in the country has been mostly stable but slightly on the rise in the past few weeks, as demonstrated by fact that the reproduction or “R” rate has fluctuated between 1 and 1.1. The R measures how many people each virus carrier infects – if it is over one the disease is spreading. On Wednesday, the rate was holding at 1.07.

At the same time, the number of serious patients continued to decline, dropping to 102. A week earlier, it stood at 116.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and other government officials are set to meet Thursday to further discuss the next steps in the fight against the Omicron variant.

After South African scientists announced that a significant rise in morbidity in the nation was suspected to have been caused by a highly mutated variant on November 25, the government quickly passed a set of restrictions, mainly related to traveling.

The restrictions included placing around 50 African countries under travel ban, closing the Israeli borders to foreign nationals and requiring a minimum of three days of quarantine for fully protected inbound travelers.

The measures are set to expire on Sunday night and the ministers are considering whether to extend them, or part of them.

In the past few days, senior officials at the Health Ministry, including Director-General Prof. Nachman Ash and Coronavirus Commissioner Prof. Salman Zarka, have suggested that no restrictions should be lifted until more is known about Omicron.

After a meeting on Monday, Bennett and Horowitz said they intended to cancel the three-day quarantine for inbound fully vaccinated travelers (except for those returning from nations under travel ban) but to maintain the requirement for a second PCR test on the third day after arrival.

A final decision however was not likely to be made before the end this week. According to reports in Israeli media, health officials will ask to extend all the current restrictions for another week.

So far, only 21 Omicron cases have been identified in the country.

According to the survey by IDI, 61% of Israelis support the restrictions passed by the government, 17% oppose them considering them too strict, and 13% described them as too mild.