New cases of COVID-19 in Israel topped 500 on Monday, a dramatic increase compared to the 10 to 20 daily cases at the beginning of June. The 501 registered new infections mark the highest level since March. Still, the situation is not as dire as it was in January. At the peak of the outbreak earlier this year, there were more than 10,000 new infections daily.
Currently, Israel has around 2,900 active cases, with 33 people in the hospital in serious condition. And even with the resurgence of the virus, only three people have died from COVID-19 complications since June 13. In comparison, in January, the number of active cases rose as high as 88,000. There were as many as 1,200 patients in serious condition, and almost 100 people died daily.
The current surge seems to be fueled by the Delta variant (and another mutation called Delta plus has also surfaced), which emerged from India. Ninety percent of the current cases in Israel have the Delta strain, and half of those infected are school-age children—40 percent of whom are fully vaccinated. Israel has administered more than 10.8 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine—fully covering most of the adult population. About 56 percent of the entire population is immunized. The vaccine only recently became approved for teens and pre-teens.
According to the Israel Health Ministry, the Pfizer vaccine seems to be only moderately effective—about 64 percent—against experiencing Delta COVID symptoms, but highly effective—93 percent—at preventing those symptoms from getting severe.
The Health Ministry and Coronavirus Cabinet are looking at several options to stem the tide of this outbreak. Some form of the controversial “Green Pass” (distinguishing between those who have been vaccinated and those who have not) may be reinstated for certain public events. Greater testing for travelers may be required. Additional countries may be added to the travel ban list. Enforcement of masks in closed spaces is also expected to be stepped up. But there will be no limits placed on attendance at weddings or cultural events.
“We understand that the corona will not disappear soon. We will have to learn how to live alongside diseases and other viruses.” Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said the government is trying to find a way forward that balances protection with minimal disruption of daily life.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked does not rule out closing down Israel’s Ben-Gurion International as a means to keep the more virulent strains of COVID-19 from entering the country. “The situation at Ben-Gurion Airport is the central concern. The simple solution is to close the airport. But the situation today is different than it was, and we’re trying to keep the airport open. But if morbidity rises, the flights will stop.”
Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is urging children 12 to 15 years old to get vaccinated and stop “putting themselves and those around them in danger.”
Even as the nation continues its drive to inoculate the people eligible and interested in being vaccinated, a supply of 700,000 doses will expire before Israel can distribute them. Israel graciously offered them to the Palestinian Authority in June, but because of push back, both for cooperating with Israel and fear that the vaccines were not effective (because they would expire in July), the Palestinians backed out, leaving 1,000,000 residents unprotected.
However, South Korea, which is dealing with an outbreak of its own and has only received enough doses to partially vaccinate one-third of its population, was happy to receive the batch of vaccines. In exchange for the “loan,” South Korea will send Israel a batch of the same amount sometime between September and November. The doses shipped out on a plane to Seoul Tuesday.