COVID positivity rate hits 4-month low as Israel prepares to let in tourists

The COVID-19 positivity rate in Israel dropped further on Thursday, reaching a low not seen since early July, according to statistics from the Health Ministry.

But ahead of the expected approval of vaccines for ages 5 to 11, health officials are warning against dropping the ball on vaccines that could prevent future waves.

Only 642 people tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday, out of about 80,000 tests, marking a positivity rate of 0.81%. At the peak of Israel’s fourth wave in early September, the positivity rate exceeded 8%.

The government voted Wednesday night to lift restrictions on outdoor gatherings, which had so far been limited to 5,000 people. Starting Friday, outdoor meetings that require a Green Pass may have an unlimited number of attendees.

Overall, all indicators point to the end of Israel’s fourth wave of COVID, which began in July and at its peak saw more than 10,000 new cases reported each day. As of Thursday, there were 10,031 active COVID cases in the country, with 332 hospitalized, 238 of them in serious condition and 139 of them on ventilators.

The number of severe cases, a key figure for Israel’s COVID policies, held steady on Thursday, after weeks of decline from a peak of more than 700 in late September. The average rate of COVID-related deaths has also declined steadily in recent weeks, with only one such death reported on Wednesday, though those figures are often revised later.

Empty beds in the intensive care unit in the coronavirus ward of the Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on October 14, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi / Flash90).

According to Israel’s traffic light program, which classifies localities as red, orange, yellow, or green based on the number of new cases, the positivity rate, and the case growth rate, only one city is currently listed in red: the settlement of Beit El on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Eleven cities are classified as orange and the rest of the country is yellow or green.

The end of Israel’s fourth wave has been attributed, at least in part, to its booster vaccination campaign, which began among those 65 and older in August and quickly spread to the rest of the population. As of Thursday morning, nearly 4 million Israelis, more than 42% of the total population, had received a third dose of the COVID vaccine. About 67% of the total population has received at least one vaccine.

Around 650,000 people who are eligible for vaccines have not received any of the injections, while around 1.1 million Israelis eligible for the booster have yet to receive it.

A key advisory panel from the Ministry of Health will meet next week to begin the approval process to vaccinate children ages 5 to 11, after it was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration earlier this week. . Health Ministry Director General Nachman Ash said he expects a lot of doubt from parents, but that the ministry aims to make the approval process as transparent and clear as possible to alleviate any concerns.

Tomer Zarfati, 13, receives his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit temporary medical care facility in Jerusalem on August 29, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel / Flash90).

Israel is still awaiting a shipment of Pfizer COVID doses for children, which are one-third of the dose administered to adults. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly ordered health officials to rush with the shipment, which is scheduled to arrive in mid-November.

Starting Monday, Israel will open its borders, in some way, allowing the entry of vaccinated tourists who have received a second or third dose or have recovered in the last six months. Despite the restrictions, experts say that the reopening of Ben-Gurion will pose a risk of new variants and an increase in cases.

According to Channel 12 news, tourists caught violating the quarantine will be deported and will be barred from re-entry for three years. And those caught violating quarantine while COVID-positive will be deported and banned for five years.

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