Inside Israel

Omicron wave appears to slow, but experts warn serious cases could still rise

Health officials reportedly believe the Omicron wave in Israel is on the downswing, but that the number of patients in serious condition could still continue to rise.

The rate of serious cases tends to lag behind new infections due to the time it takes for patients to deteriorate.

Senior officials in the Health Ministry additionally made the assessment that some three million Israelis have contracted the Omicron variant alone, a number that would far outstrip the 2.6 million total cases Israel has confirmed since February 2020, the Kan public broadcaster reported on Thursday.

Meanwhile, on Friday morning, there were 946 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in serious condition, according to Health Ministry data. It was a slight drop from Thursday when there were 960 serious cases.

On Thursday, 57,563 new cases were recorded, the ministry said. With some 265,000 PCR and antigen tests conducted, the positivity rate stood at 25.69 percent, becoming the highest daily rate since the onset of the pandemic.

Earlier this week daily cases had surpassed 85,000, but have since slowed slightly, alongside changes in testing protocols.

The R-value, the reproduction rate of the virus measuring the average number of people each positive person infects, dropped to 1.05.

Any number over 1 indicates infections are rising, while a figure below that signals that an outbreak is abating. Last month, the R-value shot up to 2.12, but has since been on the decline. The transmission rate is based on data from 10 days earlier and values above 1 show infections are spreading — the higher the number, the greater the rate.

Friday’s data showed 483,228 Israelis were actively infected with COVID-19, and of them, 2,483 were hospitalized.

As of Friday morning, hospital occupancy nationwide stood at 59.4%, and more than 8,800 medical staffers were absent from work due to COVID, including 1,282 doctors and 2,793 nurses.

Over the past week, more than 503,816 Israelis have tested positive for COVID, with experts believing that the actual figure could be several times higher.

Also in the past week, 149 Israelis with COVID have died — a 60.2% increase over the previous week — bringing the total death toll since the start of the pandemic to 8,556. A month ago, the average weekly death toll was less than 10.

Prof. Eran Segal, an expert who advises the government and has closely tracked the pandemic in Israel, noted that Wednesday was the first time in a week that there was a drop in daily cases.

Eran Segal. (courtesy)However, earlier this week, he said that reaching the peak of infections should not be seen as an all-clear signal.

“Once we stop seeing a rise in new infections, we’ll continue to see a rise in serious cases,” Segal said. “I hope that by next week we’ll reach a peak, and we’ll see stability and the beginning of a drop.”

Segal said that while he believes Israel is “nearing the end of this wave, the chance of getting infected now is the highest it has been since the outbreak of the pandemic.” He said that becoming infected with COVID “is not inevitable; these are the days that we must be careful — in particular those who are at high risk.”

He also assessed that the fast-spreading Omicron variant could mark the end of the pandemic as it has been experienced over the past two years.

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