PM and Health Minister Hold off on COVID Restrictions on Wave Warning

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Nitzan Horowitz, the Health Minister, had a meeting with health officials, as coronavirus cases are once more on the rise. They agreed that at this stage, they would not implement any new restrictions in the country. The announcement about not making any changes in policy came hours after Salman Zarka, the coronavirus czar, warned that a new wave of infections may be starting in Israel. He also stated that some sectors of the population may require a fifth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Even though the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) clarified that no new curbs will be implemented, they would make some recommendations.

The elderly, along with people at risk, should wear masks in indoor settings and medical facilities will continue to require face coverings. Furthermore, the statement also said that they would continue monitoring the infection numbers and would also use the sewage system for testing purposes. The rising number of cases in Israel had led to the meeting, as Zarka said that it appeared to be the beginning of another wave in the country. Speaking to a medical conference, Zarka said that it looked like a BA.5 variant wave. This new variant of Omicron is behind the recent surge in infections recorded in South Africa.

Zarka also stated that they would consider the possibility of recommending a fifth dose of the vaccine for certain parts of the population. He was appointed the COVID czar in the country who is responsible for managing the response of the country to the pandemic. Due to declining cases, he had returned to his previous job in Safed last month as the Ziv Medical Center’s director. The fifth dose may be recommended by officials because immunity may have been reduced in many people because of the elapsed time since they contracted the disease, or got the last shot. 

Recently, Zarka had stated that most of the population in Israel would be largely unprotected by September or October. Nachman Ash, the Director-General of the Health Ministry, said last week that conducting another campaign of vaccinations before the winter season was a ‘dilemma’. He said that convincing people would be extremely difficult. Most of the coronavirus curbs in Israel have already been lifted. The only exception is the requirement of masks in medical settings and isolation for those who have a positive result. 

In recent weeks, health officials had had discussions about dropping the isolation requirement altogether. But, with rising cases, it is likely that such talks will hit pause. On Wednesday morning, the data from the Health Ministry showed that there were 4,585 cases diagnosed on Tuesday, which brings the total number of active cases in Israel to 19,221. In recent days, four lawmakers in the Knesset also tested positive for the virus. On Wednesday morning, the transmission rate had climbed to 1.19 and this figure about 1 means that the virus is spreading. 20.38% tests conducted on Tuesday came back with a positive result. 

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