Israel’s Ministry of Health on Wednesday, Aug. 11, reported that 694 people were being treated in hospitals because of coronavirus (COVID-19) – including 400 patients in serious condition.
Among those in serious condition, 64 percent were fully vaccinated while 32 percent were not. This means that there were twice as many fully vaccinated people in serious condition because of the disease compared to those who’re not vaccinated.
According to the ministry, there were another 5,755 people diagnosed with COVID-19 – down from more than 6,000 on Tuesday, Aug. 10. The death toll stood at 6,580. More than 100 coronavirus patients have died in Israel since the beginning of August, continuing a sharp upward trend that started in June.
Israel has one of the fastest vaccination programs in the world. According to the vaccine tracker of the New York Times, 64 percent of Israelis have received at least one dose and 60 percent have been fully vaccinated. More than 650,000 citizens over age 60 or who are immunosuppressed have also received a third dose of the vaccine.
However, the country’s preliminary vaccine data published in July found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was just 40.5 percent effective on average at preventing symptomatic disease.
The analysis, which was carried out as the delta variant became the dominant strain in Israel, appeared to show a waning effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The vaccine was only 16 percent effective against symptomatic infection for those who had two doses back in January. For people that had received two doses by April, the efficacy rate against symptomatic infection stood at 79 percent.
Israel’s corona cabinet passes new COVID restrictions
Israel’s corona cabinet, the country’s ministerial committee on fighting the coronavirus, passed a new set of restrictions late Wednesday in a bid to curb the number of new COVID-19 cases. The cabinet agreed to expand the Green Pass to all branches of the economy except malls and places of commerce. It will now also apply to children older than the age of three.
This means that people who are unvaccinated – by choice or because they do not qualify – will be required to present a negative COVID test before entering swimming pools, gyms, academic institutions, sports and culture events, conferences, museums, libraries, restaurants and hotels.
The tests for children 11 years old and below will be paid for by the state while anyone 12 or older will be required to fund the screenings on their own.
Having to pay for the tests seems to have caused a surge in teens asking to get vaccinated. Both Maccabi Healthcare Services and Meuhedet Health Maintenance Organization told the Jerusalem Post that the number of children aged 12 to 15 who made appointments to get vaccinated this week was double what it was the week before.
The expanded Green Pass will take effect on Aug. 18.
“In addition to the Green Pass that would apply in full, restrictions are also needed on massive gatherings to prevent mass infection,” Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said just before the cabinet meeting commenced.
The cabinet voted to roll back out the Purple Ribbon program for malls and places of commerce according to occupancy. Meaning, there should only be one person per seven square meters. The Purple Ribbon will not apply to stores that are less than 100 square meters. The expanded Purple Ribbon program will be implemented beginning Aug. 16.
There will also be additional restrictions on gatherings. In places with marked or fixed seating, only 1,000 people will be permitted in closed spaces and 5,000 in open spaces. Smaller private events will be limited to 50 people inside and 100 outside.
Israeli prime minister announces plan to invest $775.8 million in health system
The cabinet met with the understanding that Green Pass and other similar restrictions would not effectively stop the spread of the delta variant. As such, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced before the meeting a last-minute plan to invest NIS 2.5 billion ($775.8 million) in the health system.
“We are preparing for a significant increase in the number of severe patients,” Bennett said at a news conference. “Our goal is to double the capacity of the healthcare system.”
He said that the delta variant is “sweeping the world,” and that Israel is waging a determined campaign to fight it. “Every serious patient hurts us. Every family that loses someone due to coronavirus causes us pain. But every business owner who loses his world also hurts us,” he said.
The money will be used to fund 770 new hospital beds, 800 new positions – doctors, nurses and paramedical staff – and 3,000 students who will be trained in the healthcare field.
In addition, geriatric hospitals will receive 1,000 new beds and 600 more positions. Another 1,400 beds will be added to the home hospitalization network. With these changes, the system is expected to be able to handle 2,400 serious patients.
The government is hoping that the new restrictions will buy some time until the effects of its booster campaign can be felt.
But not everyone is happy with the move.
Zion Hagay, head of the Israel Medical Association, said that the move was a little too late and that the health funds barely cover the already existing deficit in the Israeli health system. He added that it would be hard to train staff to fill so many roles in the final hour.
He also condemned the prime minister for equating the death of a loved one to losing one’s job.
“None of us should take human life lightly or compare personal injury to economic harm or property,” Hagay said. “Everyone who saves one soul has saved a world.”
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