COVID cases could climb to 1,000 in two weeks, HU researchers warn

Coronavirus cabinet to meet again this week * Another Israeli researcher has said that the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine remains effective against the Delta variant

HADASSAH UNIVERSITY Medical Center managed all its COVID-19 patients at Ein Kerem, keeping Mt. Scopus coronavirus-free (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
HADASSAH UNIVERSITY Medical Center managed all its COVID-19 patients at Ein Kerem, keeping Mt. Scopus coronavirus-free
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
The coronavirus cabinet will meet this week to discuss the Delta variant outbreak in Israel, as one research team warned that the country could see as many as 1,000 new cases a day in the next two weeks – compared to the current 300.
Another Israeli researcher has said that the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine remains effective against the Delta variant.
“A real wave of infection is spreading in Israel,” a team of researchers from the Hebrew University wrote in a report Saturday that was sent to the National Security Council. “Breaking the wave will require taking significant steps… Waiting without making any changes at this point will necessitate taking more difficult steps later on to achieve a similar effect.”
According to their predictions, since the reproduction rate or “R” – how many people an infected person will reinfect – has hit 1.5, the number of daily cases is likely to increase every week. If there is no change in behavior – no adherence to mask wearing indoors, no renewal of the green passport – “it will be difficult to prevent reaching about 1,000 daily infections within about two weeks.”
The coronavirus cabinet is expected to convene this week to discuss new restrictions, such as implementing the green passport. It met for the first time last week but voted not to add any additional restrictions at the time.
Ran Balicer, Clalit’s chief of innovation and chairman of the Israeli National COVID-19 Experts Advisory Committee, told N12 Saturday night that the green passport program would only be needed, in his opinion, if the outbreak continued at the same or greater pace, serious cases started to rise, or the vaccine was found to be ineffective against infection.
According to the HU research team, “the vaccines are noticeably less effective in preventing infection – about 60% to 80% [effective against the Delta variant] compared to 90% against the Alpha variant.”
However, the team noted that it is still unclear what percentage of people will develop serious illness. To date, the increase in severe or even moderate cases has been significantly low.
Only three to five people out of every 1,000 who are infected are developing serious infection, according to Prof. Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science – who posted related charts on Twitter – compared to 20 to 30 out of 1,000 at the peak of the pandemic.
“At this stage, there is no examination in Israel of the effectiveness of the vaccine on preventing severe illness, but in the world, it is clear that this protection is similar to [what it was] in the past,” they said, adding that it takes about five days to assess if a case will become more severe.
Another report, published over the weekend by the Central Virology Laboratory in collaboration with Dr. Gili Regev-Yochay, director of Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit from Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, showed that the neutralizing levels against the Delta virus were reduced by twofold compared with the original virus in lab tests.
However, Regev-Yochay told The Jerusalem Post that the vaccine should still be largely effective.
“Vaccination induces a substantial antibody response” for the Delta variant, the report showed.
Regev-Yochay noted that the vaccine showed itself less able to work against the Beta (South African) variant than the Delta.
The study, which was published in Eurosurveillance, involved testing serum samples of 36 healthcare workers.
The HU researchers recommended focusing efforts on preventing infection of the vulnerable population, especially those in hospitals and nursing homes.
The Health Ministry is expected to meet on Sunday to discuss the option of administering a third dose or booster shot to people who are elderly or immuno-compromised, Kan News reported.
In addition, the government initiated the construction of an expanded coronavirus testing site – in the form of a massive tent – at Ben-Gurion Airport on Friday morning, which will have the capacity to administer up to 2,500 tests per hour, according to an announcement by the Defense and Transportation ministries.
The tent will be about 1,500 sq.m. and it is expected to be functional already this week.
“After a year-and-a-half of a global pandemic, we began the construction of an extensive testing site at Ben-Gurion Airport to cut waiting times and allow for quick results,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted on Friday.
The Health Ministry reported 323 new cases Saturday night, surpassing 300 for the second time since April, the last time being on Wednesday. However, only 0.5% of of the nearly 70,000 people screened tested positive.
There were 31 patients in serious condition reported. The last time there were 31 serious patients was June 11. The number of serious cases ranged from 23 to 29 over the past week.
New outbreaks have reportedly been discovered by the ministry’s sewage surveillance team in Modi’in, Binyamina, Herzliya, Giv’at Ada and Hod Hasharon.
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.