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Sixth COVID wave? Israeli committee recommends indoor masking but not a fifth vaccine, yet

Despite increase in cases, new virus restrictions will not be implemented at this stage

A technician performs a COVID-19 test at Ben-Gurion International Airport, March 2, 2022. (Photo: Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

While government officials are not restoring mask mandates or recommending a fifth shot, yet again, COVID is looming large in the headlines again as Israel appears to be on the brink of a new wave with daily infections on the rise.

“Unfortunately, it seems we are starting a new coronavirus wave in Israel – the BA.5 [variant] wave,” coronavirus czar Salman Zarka said on Wednesday.

The Omicron BA.5 is the latest variant since the outbreak of the virus in 2020. New infections spiked earlier this year at the height of the Omicron wave with record numbers soaring above 80,000 a day, but since then most COVID-related restrictions were removed as the wave had subsided. 

However, it has been on the uptick again recently and health experts convened yesterday for an emergency meeting. The team advising the Health Ministry recommended indoor face masks be required and approved a third shot for children ages 5 to 11. Only 23.5% of children in that age group have taken the COVID vaccine at this point, according to the Health Ministry dashboard.

They did not recommend a fifth shot of the vaccine, although Zarka said it might be necessary for people in high-risk categories.

Despite the recommendations, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz decided not to implement any new restrictions at this time. Mask mandates in medical settlings and nursing homes will continue, as will the monitoring of sewage systems.

Israel defines a person as fully vaccinated once they have received two vaccine doses, plus a booster. Adults, however, have been urged to get a fourth shot and more than 800,000 Israelis have so far done so. The health panel also recommended that medical workers be required to take a third shot.

ALL ISRAEL NEWS reported last week that Zarka said Israel would consider closing its airport to foreigners again if a new COVID-19 variant of concern emerged in late summer or early fall.

At that meeting, he also stressed that a new wave was further off. 

“No one knows when the next wave will come,” Zarka said at the time. “But there is an understanding that there will be another wave. There are still plenty of countries with low vaccination rates and therefore the virus is still mutating.”

Zarka also said that the numbers seen on the Health Ministry’s dashboard are inaccurate and far lower than is actually the case. What appears to be around 4,000 new daily cases could be higher than 10,000.

According to Health Ministry data released Thursday morning, 4,674 people were diagnosed with the coronavirus a day earlier, taking the number of confirmed active cases to 22,587. The positivity rate is 23%. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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