The Covid scares Israel again. The arrival of the delta variant has ended the idyllic post-pandemic feeling in one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, which reopened the economy just three weeks ago. In recent days, epidemics caused by the mutation first identified in India have erupted across the country, causing shifts in authorities’ strategy and eroding the sense of relief among residents, who believed they were being protected by the success of mass vaccination.
Although few in number, new cases are attracting attention. May and June were the months with the fewest coronavirus deaths in Israel in a year. From June 14 to 21, for example, there was not a single death.
But out of an average of just 20 people infected per day, Israel started recording numbers above 100. As of Monday (21), 122 people were diagnosed with Covid. Tuesday (22), 110 and Wednesday (23), 138. Currently, there are more than 680 active cases in the country – a figure well above the average of 200 for May, although it is well below the peak of 85,000 active infections. before the vaccination campaign.
Health officials have already said they will strengthen the requirement to wear masks indoors – which was repealed on June 15 – if more than 100 cases per day, on average, for a week are detected. The main concern is the fact that epidemics are taking place in schools, as children up to 12 years old have not been vaccinated and only 4.5% of the 600,000 adolescents aged 12 to 15 in the country have received the first dose – vaccination for this age group started just two weeks ago.
“I am worried,” Nachman Ash, head of Israel’s anti-Covid-19 task force, admitted in a local radio interview. There is a possibility of spread.
WHO consultant Eyal Leshem, director of the Center for Travel Medicine and Tropical Diseases at Sheba Medical Center, said the fear is that Israel will repeat what is currently happening in the UK, where despite the high level vaccination, there is a discharge from hospitalizations due to the delta variant.
“Whatever happens to us in the coming weeks could be a repeat of England,” Leshem said. “The delta variant has already been found in over 80 countries around the world, and where it entered, it quickly became predominant. It can happen here too.
In Israel, 63% of the population has already received at least one dose of the immunizing agent from Pfizer / BioNTech, and 59%, both. Over 50 years, the percentage of completely immunized reaches 90%. For Leshem, we can say that Israel is experiencing a collective immunity situation, with 70% of the population vaccinated or cured, since more than 830,000 people have already been infected with the virus.
Delta, however, is spreading faster and, in addition to being able to infect children and the roughly 10% of adults who are still hesitant to be vaccinated, it is also detected in vaccinated adults. Scottish government data reported in the medical journal The Lancet, which has not yet been peer reviewed, indicates that the effectiveness of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine is 92% for the alpha variant and 79% for the delta variant. AstraZeneca’s vaccine showed 73% efficacy for alpha and 60% for delta.
Two places have become centers of concern: the towns of Modi’in and Binyamin, but there are other small epidemics scattered across the country. In total, around 300 children and a few dozen adults have been diagnosed with coronavirus and thousands of people are in quarantine.
The result is an increased demand for vaccination among adolescents. Hot so far due to the sense of normalcy, it has quadrupled in the past few days. Hezi Levi, director general of the Ministry of Health, admitted to local media that there was no urgency on the part of the ministry to take advantage of the vaccination of this segment of the population, something which now has exchange.
In this context, the new Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, restored the Cabinet from the coronavirus, which had been dismembered, and made a statement on Tuesday (22) in which he urged Israelis not to travel abroad, except in vital cases. The new outbreak began due to the country’s reopening, albeit limited, to foreigners and an increase in the number of Israelis traveling abroad, mainly to six countries considered dangerous – Brazil, India, Russia, Africa of the South, Mexico and Argentina.
In theory, they can only travel to or from these countries if they receive special permission from a committee of the Ministry of Health. But at Ben-Gurion International Airport, virtually the only air port of entry into Israel, there wasn’t a lot of control. Many also forged permits, and others sought connecting flights in liberated countries. “As long as there are people traveling and returning from abroad, there is a danger of importing new variants and increasing the number of cases,” Leshem explains.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz has pledged to tighten the airport siege and impose heavy fines on anyone who ignores instructions. From now on, every passenger will have to undergo a PCR test when disembarking in Israel – even those already immune. Anyone infected will need to be quarantined with an electronic bracelet that alerts authorities if the person leaves the house. The government also announced that the return of tourists, scheduled for July 1, has been postponed to August 1.
Despite all the concerns, Leshem says Israel is still in a good position due to mass vaccinations. So, he says, even if there are more hospitalizations, there will not be as many deaths as in the three waves the country has faced since March 2020. In total, nearly 840,000 Israelis have been infected since the start of the pandemic and 6,429 have been infected. deceased.
“The majority of those infected are young healthy people or people who are already immune. Therefore, although there are already hundreds of cases of the delta variant in the country, we still do not see an increase in the number of hospitalized patients, in critical condition or in mortality. The greatest danger is the 10% of Israeli adults who have not been vaccinated. These, yes, can develop serious illness, ”he says.
In his statement, the prime minister also revealed that despite having enough doses to vaccinate 12-15 year olds and hesitant adults, Israel’s stock will expire at the end of July. Given the recent epidemics, the country is trying to anticipate the arrival of new shipments from Pfizer / BioNTech, scheduled for the last quarter of this year. The idea is to give a third dose from January for people already immunized and to vaccinate children up to 12 years old as soon as the FDA, the US regulatory body, gives the green light to the application of the vaccines for this age group.
According to Leshem, the Israeli case could be a wake-up call to the world that Covid is here to stay.
“It is possible to learn from Israel that if you come to a situation where the majority of the population, especially the elderly, are vaccinated, you can resume a normal life. But there is zero risk in medicine or in life in general. We have to keep an eye on. “