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Israel passes dire pandemic milestones: 9,000 deaths, 3 million virus cases

Israel passed 9,000 coronavirus deaths as of Thursday, after the Health Ministry reported 87 deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total death toll to 9,013.

Some 58,472 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed between Wednesday and Thursday, pushing the country past the threshold of three million reported cases since the pandemic began. Experts say the true number of cases is probably much higher.

Israel hit 2 million cases on January 19, meaning that one-third of all confirmed cases recorded in Israel have been detected in the past couple of weeks. However, the ministry did not say how many of those cases were reinfections.

The number of active cases stands at 475,117, according to the Health Ministry. More than 78,000 Israelis are in quarantine and a total of 2,753 patients are hospitalized across the country.

The number of patents in serious condition remained relatively steady — 1,096 on Thursday morning, compared to 1,086 the previous morning. Of those, 258 were on ventilators.

The basic reproduction number of the virus, referred to as the R-number, continued its steady decline, reaching 0.9 and indicating a waning of the current wave. The transmission rate is based on data from 10 days earlier and any value below 1 indicates that the pandemic is shrinking.

But just as Israel seems poised to begin to put the massive wave of Omicron-fueled infections behind it, the new BA.2 variant has raised concerns among health experts.

On Wednesday, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, who serves as head of public health services at the Health Ministry, said during a meeting of the Knesset Health Committee that about 300 cases of the new variant have been detected in Israel so far, primarily among people returning from abroad.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, at a press conference on COVID-19, December 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

But, denying previous reports that pointed to cases of reinfection among recovered Omicron patients, Alroy-Preis said that “there was not one case of reinfection among those who have recovered from Omicron.

“For someone who has recently recovered, contracting a relatively similar virus” is unlikely, she said, as the new strain “needs to be different enough that the antibodies that helped him recover would not protect him.”

Experts have noted that while the BA.2 variant seems to be more contagious than the original Omicron, it does not appear to cause more serious illness.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned on Tuesday that Israel “can expect another difficult week and a half.”

On Tuesday, the coronavirus cabinet voted to narrow the application of the “Green Pass” vaccination certificate, ruling that it will only be required at “high-risk” events. Under the new guidelines, which will take effect at midnight on Sunday night, proof of vaccination or a negative test will only be required at weddings and similar celebrations, as well as in clubs and at large parties.

The cabinet also voted to extend for a further month the requirement for all incoming travelers to present a negative COVID test before boarding a flight to Israel and to undergo another test upon landing.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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