Israel registered close to 11,000 COVID-19 cases on Monday, the Health Ministry reported Tuesday, marking a new record since the start of the pandemic.
The number of patients in serious condition has remained stable, but with the new school year set to begin on Wednesday, officials fear there will be a further increase in infections.
“I expect that morbidity will rise further, but I hope it will not be a new outbreak,” Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash told Channel 12.
At least 10,947 new virus carriers were identified on Monday, with 7.65% of people tested returning a positive test. On only one other occasion since the beginning of the pandemic has the country recorded more than 10,000 cases. There were 10,118 on January 18, during the peak of the third wave, the most virulent and deadliest the country experienced.
There are about 83,000 active cases, compared with some 88,000 during the third wave, but the number of patients in serious condition and those who have died in August has been lower. At last count, 520 people had died in August, with a peak of 756 patients in serious condition, compared with more than 1,400 deaths in January and a record of some 1,200 patients in serious condition.
On Tuesday, about 35,000 of the active cases were schoolchildren, in addition to some 55,000 who were in isolation because they had been exposed to verified cases. All will therefore not be able to go to school.
For grades seven through 12 in cities labeled as red according to the Coronavirus Traffic Light System, classes where the vaccination rate does not reach 70%, including students jabbed with the first dose and those recovered, will not be able to return to their classrooms.
There are about 150,000 students in this situation, but they will be given the opportunity to study outdoors and not on school premises, media outlets reported.
These municipalities include Ashdod, Eilat, Tiberias and several large haredi (ultra-Orthodox) cities, including Bnei Brak and Modi’in Illit.
Haredi students returned to their studies around three weeks ago at the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul. Since then, morbidity has increased from 4% to 23%.
Ash defended the decision to reopen schools. The authorities have set in place several measures to reduce the risk, including a requirement to perform a rapid coronavirus antigen test before classes begin and limitations for red cities, he said.
The vaccination campaign is proceeding at full speed with more than 100,000 shots administered on most days. So far, more than 2.15 million Israelis have received their third shot. On Sunday, anyone over the age of 12 who has been vaccinated for at least five months became eligible for the booster shot.
The number of first doses given every day has been increasing. Israel is expected to hit the milestone of six million individuals jabbed with at least one shot by the end of the week.
Health officials and experts hope the vaccination campaign will lead to a decrease in morbidity soon.
On Monday, the reproduction rate, or R rate, which measures how many people each virus carrier can infect on average, dropped below 1.1 for the first time since the beginning of the fourth wave. An R over 1 indicates that the disease is spreading, but at a slower pace than in the past.
Concurrently, the seven public hospitals continued their protest over lack of funding. Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem’s Hadassah-University Medical Center, Netanya’s Laniado Medical Center, Bnei Brak’s Ma’aynei Hayeshua Medical Center and three hospitals in Nazareth stopped receiving coronavirus patients at the beginning of last week and only have been accepting patients in need of life-saving treatments since Wednesday.
So-called public hospitals are independent organizations that rely mostly on donations, as opposed to facilities directly owned and funded by the state or the health funds.
Officials from the Health and Finance ministries said they have been monitoring the crisis closely and are committed to resolving it quickly.