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Israel’s COVID Infection Data takes Turn for Better – but remains Far from Good

The COVID-19 infection data seems to be changing direction and providing reasons to be optimistic – even for the health care system.

The infection rate figures recorded over the weekend have not been seen for a long time: The daily number of new confirmed cases on Friday was under 5,000 – with a weekly average of under 5,500 per day – along with a 6.7 percent rate of positive tests out of a total of over 75,000 tests conducted.

Add to these figures an R number of 0.88 (the number of people each sick individual infects), and the overall picture is clearly changing for the better.

A week earlier, the numbers looked very different, with the daily number of new cases hovering around 7,500 and 9 percent of all tests coming back as positive – evidence of the rapid spread of the coronavirus variants.

At the same time, 5,000 new confirmed “cases” a day is not the ultimate goal of the Health Ministry – far from it. But after such high numbers for so long, last week’s data provides some hope, even for the professionals at the Health Ministry. Now their dilemma is whether to show any of this optimism in public, which could cause a feeling of complacency and lead to a dangerous reaction.

But for now, a senior Health Ministry official said, “there are definitely reasons for optimism. We are nearing the targets defined for the next stage: 3 million vaccinated, less than 900 patients in serious condition, an R number of less than 1. This expresses both the effect of the vaccines and also the fact that nonetheless, we must continue using masks and social distancing.”

The hospitals are also feeling the change – but at a slower pace. The number of patients in critical condition fell under 1,000 recently, after weeks of this figure hovering around 1,200. These patients, who have especially complex conditions, flooded the coronavirus wards and intensive care units – and a large number of skilled staff is required to care for them.

As of Saturday, the number of such patients was 992, of whom 388 were in critical condition. These numbers reflect a drop, but it is still much too early for the hospitals to celebrate. These numbers are still too high and give them no respite, or even a moment to breath before the next wave, certainly not when the government is about to reopen the economy and end the lockdown.

The headquarters for the fight against the coronavirus is following the data carefully, but with what they describe as “hardheaded optimism.” Despite the improvement in the infection numbers, if the schools and businesses open too quickly and without proper supervision over every step of easing the lockdown restrictions, Israel could once again find itself in the throws of another wave of the outbreak, said officials.

A report released on Friday by the national information center on the coronavirus crisis said the infection continues to be widespread despite a decrease – but the number of new cases and overcrowding of the hospitals is still high. In addition, the make-up of the patients in serious condition has changed. This likely reflects the effectiveness of the vaccination and the high vaccination rate among the older population.

The report says the number of new “cases” and those in serious condition among people aged 50 and older has dropped significantly, seemingly as a result of the vaccination campaign. But the number of new patients in serious condition among younger age groups made up 40 percent of the new cases last week.

Because of widespread coronavirus infection and the fact that a large part of this population has yet to be vaccinated, the change in the make-up of these patients has not led to a significant drop in the number of serious cases, stated the report.

The coming weeks will be the test: A rise in infection is predicted because of the removal of restrictions and the spread of the British variant of the virus.

Cyprus, Israel set to sign tourism deal

Cyprus and Israel are expected to announce plans to mutually recognize vaccination certificates, in order to renew tourism between the countries.

The announcement is expected during a visit by Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades on Sunday.

Last week, Israel and Greece announced plans for a similar deal. Israel is working on such agreements with Estonia and the Seychelles as well.

Source: Judy Maltz and Ido Efrati – HAARETZ