Israel officially experiencing a sixth wave of COVID-19

70% of new cases attributed to a new Omicron variant called BA-5.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Israel has officially entered its sixth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, with just over 20,000 new cases reported over the last two days, the highest daily numbers since the beginning of April.

This follows the 7,000 infections recorded on Friday and nearly 5,000 on Saturday, when fewer people are tested due to the Jewish Sabbath.

The average positivity rate of the tests over the last week is high, standing at some 36 percent. The number of severe cases has also risen sharply, with 180 people currently seriously ill, a jump of over 100% compared to last week. Of that number, 36 are in critical condition and 37 are intubated.

According to Health Ministry data, 55,000 Israelis are currently ill, with an R-rate of 1.32. This means that an average of three people get infected from each Covid victim, showing that the disease is still spreading, albeit at a slower pace than earlier in the month, when the rate was 1.52.

Fifteen patients have passed away in the last week, bringing the overall Israeli death toll attributed to the pandemic to 10,911.

The main culprit is a new Omicron variant called BA-5, accounting for 70% of the new cases. It is more contagious than its “parent,” and there seems to be little immunity for people who were vaccinated or have had previous versions of the disease.

It is not necessarily more severe than the original Omicron. Data out of South Africa, where it was first reported, showed fewer hospitalizations and deaths compared to the first Omicron subvariant, BA-1.

The fast-rising numbers, however, has led the Health Ministry to ask hospitals to prepare to reopen their Corona wards.

“The rising rate of morbidity over the last two weeks is reflected in hospitalizations… the number of seriously ill and intubated patients, and the rise in the number of referrals to the emergency room,” the ministry wrote in a letter to hospital directors.

“According to the guidelines, once 80% of the beds dedicated to confirmed cases are filled, an additional compound or ward must be opened,” it continued.

Staff should continue to be trained in the complexities of caring for Covid-19 patients, the ministry added, and reporting systems must be immediately updated if the hospitals have delayed doing so for any reason.

While the idea of shutting down any part of the country was dismissed out of hand, the ministry is considering reimposing a mask mandate on indoor gatherings.

Another possibility is that incoming tourists may also again be required to test for Covid-19, a demand that was dropped only three weeks ago. Israel Hayom reported that 926 new arrivals who voluntarily tested turned out to be positive, according to Health Ministry data.

It is therefore likely that many more travelers are infected, a fact that troubles health officials.