The number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients in Israel dropped to its lowest point since December 30 on Tuesday, according to Health Ministry figures. New deaths and infections continued to decline since highs in January.
The ministry said there were 704 active serious cases, including 265 classified as critical and 226 patients on ventilators.
Serious cases peaked in mid- to late-January with over 1,900 patients, with the number steadily falling since.
The drop in serious cases comes alongside Israel’s world-leading vaccination campaign.
The Health Ministry said Tuesday evening that over 4.8 million Israelis have received their first vaccine dose, or over half of the population, and over 3.4 million have received their second dose.
For people over 70, who are more likely to become seriously sick from the virus, over 90 percent are vaccinated.
Several million Israelis are ineligible for the vaccine, mostly because they are under the age of 16.
There were 40,976 active “cases” on Tuesday, including 4,803 new infections, a figure that has dropped since a January peak of over 10,000.
The death toll climbed by 13 to 5,790.
The promising figures come as Israel continues to navigate a course out of its crushing third wave outbreak by reopening more classrooms and easing travel restrictions.
The Education Ministry on Tuesday publicized its proposal for students in grades 7-10 to return to the classroom in low- to medium-infected areas on Sunday.
Students in those grades are the last to remain at home, studying remotely, under the pandemic restrictions. Schools have been largely shuttered in Israel for much of the past year, leading to frequent protests by parents and children.
Infection rates among children and school reopenings are a central concern as Israel steps out of its third wave virus outbreak.
Children represent a larger proportion of infections than earlier in the pandemic, presumably due to new virus variants and the fact that a significant share of adults have been vaccinated.
The high-level coronavirus cabinet on Tuesday approved a plan to more fully reopen Ben Gurion Airport ahead of the upcoming elections, following criticism of the government panel that has been deciding which Israelis may enter the country amid the ongoing closure of the airport.
The move increases the number of Israelis permitted to enter the country to 3,000 per day starting March 7 and scraps the need to get entry permission from the Exceptions Committee.
Non-citizens will still require permission to enter Israel, while Israelis flying out who have not yet been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will need the committee’s approval, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
The proposal still needs approval from the full cabinet.
Israel’s land and air gateways have been largely closed since January 25, with Ben Gurion Airport shuttered for all but a few special flights by Israeli and some foreign airlines to bring back citizens stranded abroad, leaving thousands unable to return.
The entrance of more dangerous virus variants into Israel is a top concern for health officials and one of the main reasons the borders were closed.
The Health Ministry said on Tuesday that it has identified three cases of the so-called New York variant of the coronavirus, the first time the mutation has been found in Israel.
The ministry said all three cases were in the same family.
Kan News reported that ministry officials believe the three came into contact with someone who recently returned from New York and there were concerns others may already have been infected. According to Channel 13 News, the diagnosed individuals have not been cooperating with epidemiological investigators.
Officials are reportedly concerned the variant could already be spreading undetected in Israel.
The “highly contagious British mutation” now accounts for almost all new coronavirus infections in Israel.
Despite Israel’s improving fortunes battling the pandemic, a Tuesday Channel 13 poll showed that 48% of the public was dissatisfied with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s performance during the crisis, while just 28% of the public was satisfied.
Sixty-two percent of survey respondents said they do not have faith in the government’s public health guidelines, while 28% do.
Header: A technician collects nasal swab samples for COVID-19 testing at Ben-Gurion International Airport on February 28, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)