Covid 19 coronavirus: Israel faces lockdown as Delta variant surges

Israel, one of the world’s front-runners in Covid-19 vaccinations, is reinstating restrictions and warning of a fresh lockdown as the number of serious cases rises to its highest in four months.

Nearly 5.4 million of Israel’s 9.3 million population have had both vaccines, according to health ministry data.

But despite the high vaccination rates, Israel brought back its “green pass” system on Sunday as the country struggles to contain the Delta variant.

Before the Delta variant arrived in June, Israel had driven daily new Covid cases down from 10,000 a day to fewer than 100. Now, Israel is recording an average of around 3000 new cases per day, with more than 300 people in a serious condition – the highest since April.

The restrictions, which had been lifted in June, once again limit outdoor and indoor gatherings of any size to people who have been vaccinated, those who have recently recovered from the virus or people able to present a negative Covid-19 test.

The restrictions will also apply to restaurants, gyms and hotels, while face masks will be required for outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people.

The private sector is being encouraged to allow employees to work from home once again, while 50 per cent of public servants will be doing the same.

“It’s as if you’re walking around with a machine gun firing delta variants at people,” Naftali Bennett, the Prime Minister, said of people who have not been vaccinated, adding that close to a million eligible Israelis have not yet received a first dose.

Nachman Ash, the director-general of the health ministry, said on Sunday that it was “impossible to say for sure” if the school year would commence as planned on September He also suggested that a lockdown could be implemented over the Jewish High Holidays next month.

“We really don’t want to get to a lockdown. We’re trying all the steps not to reach that place, but in a certain situation where there is a heavy burden on the health system to the point of fear of its collapse, there will be no choice,” he said during a radio interview.

John Borowski, a healthcare director in Israel, added that the Delta variant had changed the whole equation of how authorities handle containment.

“The symptoms are milder, it’s harder to diagnose, the virus is more contagious and the death rate is less. When you look at the death rate, case mortality and intensive care rate you can see it’s almost 10 times less than what you would have expected,” he explained.

“You can see the vaccine has been great at decreasing the severity of illness. But when the illness becomes almost ten times less dangerous to the individual – the decision to close everything down to protect the individual changes.”

Borowski added that as the R rate, which measures the spread of infection, has been stable since the delta outbreak over a month ago, there is hope that these reinstated restrictions, if properly enforced, will be enough to avoid a further lockdown.

Israel has come under fire in recent days for offering a booster third dose to the over 60s while many developing countries are struggling to offer initial vaccines to large swathes of their populations.


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