COVID in Israel: PM kicks up vaccination campaign as cases spike

The latest morbidity numbers published by the Ministry of Health Monday show that 3.87% of the nearly 88,000 tested Sunday had the virus. That comes out to 3,402 people, more than the number of those vaccinated that day against the virus (3,372).

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

As the COVID-19 infection rate continues rising throughout the country, Israel is rolling out various testing tools and appealing for the unvaccinated to go get jabbed to bring the alarming numbers down and prevent a potential fourth lockdown.

The latest morbidity numbers published by the Ministry of Health Monday show that 3.87% of the nearly 88,000 tested Sunday had the virus. That comes out to 3,402 people, more than the number of those vaccinated that day against the virus (3,372).

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made a personal appeal Sunday to the Arab community, which has an especially low rate of vaccination compliance in general. He called both on the older population get the booster shot, which is now available to those over age 60, and the “many” younger people who have not even received the first dose.

“Go out today to get vaccinated…. It will save the lives of your loved ones,” he said in a video clip posted online.

Out of over 31,000 who are currently ill, 360 are hospitalized in critical condition. At the height of the pandemic last year, once there were 1,200 seriously ill, the health system was said to be on the verge of collapse, and there was no choice but to lock down the country as there were no vaccines. If the Delta variant’s spread is not stopped soon by the now-readily-available doses, the country is heading down the same path again, health authorities and politicians have both warned.

The medical data is clear that those who have not yet been inoculated are getting sick at a much higher rate than those who have. The IDF Home Front Command’s headquarters,said that the reproduction rate of the virus – how many are infected from one ill person – is currently 5.6 among those who are unvaccinated. It is less than one (0.86) among those who have gotten the shots.

Nevertheless, 1.1 million Israelis above the age of 12 who could get inoculated have yet to do so. This, despite the incentive called the Green Pass the government rolled out that allows only those vaccinated, recovered or recently tested to freely enter places such as hotels, gyms, restaurants, and cultural or sporting events.

Israir Airlines jumped in Sunday with an innovative incentive from private industry: Until August 14, vaccinated passengers will receive a $180 discount on tickets to a number of destinations in ‘green’ countries. The list includes Baku, Belgrade, Bucharest, and Marrakech, with the discount valid until the end of the year. The offer also stands for the over-60 crowd if they get the booster shot.

Mass testing is seen as another way of slowing down the spread of the virus.

Some 120 rapid testing stations were opened Sunday around the country as part of the Green Pass system. Run by the MDA in their first-responder stations and other public venues, results are returned to people’s smart phones within 15 minutes of receiving a nose swab and are good for 24 hours. A positive answer means that the person has to self-isolate and get a standard PCR test to double-check the antigen test, which has an 85%-95% rate of accuracy.

“The goal of the project is to enable Israeli citizens to live alongside the corona plague by performing professional, efficient and fast tests,” said MDA Director General Eli Bin, and he noted that they proved their value immediately.

Out of 5,300 checked, 215 infected people were discovered on the first day, he said, so “thanks to the quick tests, many chains were cut off that could have led to the infection of thousands of people.”

Since children under the age of 12 cannot receive the vaccine, the government would like to see almost two million students receive the rapid test in their health funds right before their school year begins, in an attempt to keep Covid-19 out of the educational system. Needing the approval of the corona cabinet, it is part of a five-part plan that also includes performing preliminary serological tests to find students who have had the disease without even knowing it. If the blood test proves they have the antibodies, it would exempt them from isolation if a classmate gets ill.

This phase will hopefully begin Monday, with the opening of the haredi school year. It will first be rolled out in smaller cities with high ultra-Orthodox populations, such as Bnei Brak, Beit Shemesh and Modiin Illit. If it goes well, it will be expanded to some 1.6 million students.

All children and teachers will also be asked to wear masks, keep social distancing, and learn outdoors as much as possible.