Israel registered more COVID cases in January – still with three days left to go – than in all of 2021, according to a report released Thursday by the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center.
While 960,500 people tested positive for the coronavirus in 2021, more than 1,160,000 tested positive in January 2022.
Israeli health experts are hoping that the Omicron wave has reached its peak. According to the Health Ministry, 67,393 new cases of COVID-19 were registered on Wednesday and 57,539 on Thursday – a significant drop from the new pandemic-high for daily infections set on Sunday of almost 84,000.
Even if the numbers continue to drop, the number of patients who need hospitalization could spike in the coming weeks, health experts fear.
With the rising number of patients hospitalized due to COVID-19, the Israeli government approved an initiative to add more hospital beds in intensive care wards around the country and the requisite number of medical workers.
The number of patients hospitalized in serious condition was 941 as of Friday morning – the highest since February of last year when the number exceeded 1,100. Some 200 of them are on a ventilators.
When announcing the 45 additional hospital beds, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett noted in a statement that "the health system is working around the clock, day and night, to safeguard public health.” He stressed that the government is aware of the pressure on the system and is working to alleviate it.
“We have provided drugs that prevent severe illness. We have expanded the hospitalization capacity in the geriatric sector as well as home hospitalization,” Bennett added. “Now we are further strengthening the intensive care wards. We are in the height of the wave and soon we will see the light at the end of the tunnel. We will get through this wave together.”
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said the government is responding to the need and trying to provide tools for safeguarding public health and for life alongside the coronavirus.
“In addition to the vaccines, drugs and tests, strengthening the health system is a main component of our strategy. It is true for emergencies such as the coronavirus and for the pressured routine. We will continue to do everything to ease conditions for hospital patients and staff,” he said.
The Health Ministry announced on Friday a deal to purchase 5 million Novavax COVID-19 vaccines. Novavax has yet to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In another controversial move, the government has decided to scrap mandatory quarantines for children who come into contact with COVID carriers. Starting Sunday, Israeli children will be required to undergo testing twice a week – Sunday and Wednesday – as a prerequisite for attending school.
In a weekend interview with Yediot Aharonot newspaper, Israel's Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton defended her insistence on canceling quarantine for children.
"The scale of the cases is not such that justifies keeping 2 million students home. You cannot drag people along anymore, and I hope that everyone has already reached the conclusion that we can let everyone free – including adults – from this, and really take the route that anyone who is sick should stay home," she said.
Canceling quarantines for children, she said, “could have happened earlier as well.”
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.