By Erin Viner
Government advisor Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute was cited by local media today estimating that about 3 million Israelis have caught the virus since advent of the Omicron variant.
983,000 citizens have been diagnosed with the coronavirus just since the start of this month, amounting to more than 10% of the overall 9.4 million population, announced the Israeli Ministry of Health this morning.
There are currently 531,430 active cases in the country, with 83,088 new patients over the past 24 hours alone. Israeli hospitals were treating 2,181 COVID-19 patients, 814 of whom were in serious condition.
110 Israelis died of the disease over the past week, including 20 people yesterday; bringing overall fatalities to 8,447.
The highest outbreak is in Jerusalem with a reported 41,463 cases. Tel Aviv follows with 24,054 patients, 17,238 in Petah Tikva and 14,587 in Rishon Lezion.
Both Prof. Segal and Health Ministry Director General Prof. Nachman Ash have expressed belief that Israel has yet to see the peak of the Omicron wave, which may come in the next week or so.
While the number of hospitalizations is still rising the rate of increase is slowing.
Meanwhile, the government has announced a new plan approved for schoolchildren up to the age of 18.
Those who have been exposed to infected carriers will no longer have to enter quarantine, as of this coming Thursday. Instead, both vaccinated and unvaccinated students will undergo 2 antigen tests per week every Sunday and Wednesday in order to enter educational facilities. Only those who test positive for COVID-19 will need to isolate until they have recovered.
Millions of tests will be provided through the educational system to students, while 2.5 million kits will be brought to geriatric hospitals and retirement homes, 25,000 seniors being cared for by the Welfare and Social Affairs Ministry, and about 450,000 families who receive government support. The distribution will be carried out by the Welfare and Social Affairs Ministry, IDF Home Front Command and local authorities, according to a statement obtained by TV7.
“The government is looking for every way to assist the citizens of Israel in getting through the Omicron wave. We have decided to provide free tests to the citizens of Israel, pupils and the overall population,” said Prime Minister Bennett, stressing that, “Instead of lockdowns, we are working to find solutions in order to keep the economy functioning however possible and to get through the worst of the wave together.”
Health Minister Horowitz underscored, “We are committed to supplying all of the tools in order to safeguard the health of every person in Israel, alongside maintaining the economy, education and life alongside the coronavirus. We are seeing to continual stocks of vaccines for everyone, to drugs and dedicated care for all who need them, and tests on a wide scale that will enable us to forestall infection and morbidity. In parallel with the testing stations throughout the country, just as we promised, we are embarking on a major effort to distribute millions of free tests to the public. I call on the public: Use the tests. It is simple, accessible and free. You will safeguard yourselves and thus we will safeguard those at risk who are liable to become severely ill. This is the social responsibility of each and every one of us.”
Finance Minister Liberman added that, “the decision to provide free tests to the citizens of Israel, particularly the vulnerable populations, alongside shortening the quarantine period to five days subject to negative test results, is important news that will allow us to live alongside the coronavirus. I have said throughout that we are prepared to get through this wave by providing focused assistance and showing responsibility for the sectors that have been hurt. I thank the Prime Minister and the Health Minister for cooperating in bringing considered and responsible decisions. We will continue to monitor the data and economic activity, and we will see to it that everyone receives the assistance they deserve.”
Other new restrictions include cessation of isolation by asymptomatic vaccinated individuals infected with COVID-19 after 2 negative antigen tests taken on the 4th and 5th days; and negative tests by the asymptomatic unvaccinated on the 5th day at a recognized testing facility. If any of the aforementioned test positive, they must continue to remain in quarantine for another week before undergoing further testing. Anyone experiencing symptoms of the disease must remain in isolation for 10 days.
Gantz, who announced on Friday that he was isolating after testing positive, wrote on Twitter, “I feel good because I am vaccinated. In the coming days I will manage security affairs from my home.”