Wed, 22 Sep 2021

JERUSALEM, Aug. 2 (Xinhua) -- Israeli hospitals have begun reopening their COVID-19 wards this week, as a surge in infections has resulted in a spike in severe cases requiring hospitalization.

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March last year, more than 6,400 Israelis have died of the virus. After a comforting period in which infection rates dropped dramatically, the numbers started rising again last month with the intrusion of the Delta variant.

The Israeli government has taken a series of steps to curb the spread of the coronavirus, while trying hard to avoid drastic ones for the sake of an open economy, as the economic fallout from the previous three extended lockdowns is still felt in the country.

New Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz promised to avoid a fourth lockdown at all costs. Bennett has repeatedly said Israel needs to learn how to live alongside the pandemic with minimal intervention.

"We need to live in a way that takes the recent outbreak into consideration but also enables the economy, the schools and daily lives to continue as much as possible," said Nadav Davidovitch, director of the School of Public Health at Ben-Gurion University and chair of the Association of Public Health Physicians in Israel.

The government's stated aim is to avoid the overload of the healthcare system. However, as the infections are quickly multiplying, the security margin is shrinking, with the indoor mask mandate in late June as the first reinstated measure.

Earlier this week, Israel became the first country in the world to begin administering a third shot of the COVID-19 vaccine to all citizens above the age of 60, as experts believe that the vaccine efficacy has dropped in people vaccinated in the beginning of the year.

"It is hard to exaggerate the importance of the third vaccination," said Bennett at a cabinet meeting on Sunday. "This is a way to save lives."

It is worth noting that the prevalence of the Delta variant appears to have made a dent in Israel's heard immunity through vaccination. It is still unclear if a thrid booster shot will help reduce the infection rate which is doubling about every nine days.

"This was a complex decision, but necessary because of the outbreak," said Davidovitch. "The current wave is serious. It is something that should be done in order to add efficacy."

Almost 60 percent of the Israeli population have been vaccinated against COVID-19 as a result of a swift drive at the beginning of the year, enabling the government to lift all restrictions for a period of time when the infection rates remained low.

Still, approximately 1 million Israelis eligible for the vaccination have decided not to be inoculated. According to Davidovitch, the vaccination for those unvaccinated is more important than the booster shot.

"The vaccinations alone are not enough. It needs to be backed up by masks, by meticulous preparation for the upcoming school year, serological surveys, rapid testing and increased enforcement," Davidovitch noted.

For now, as restrictions on large gatherings have been imposed again, unvaccinated people will have to present a negative test result for their participation in such events.

However, Cyrille Cohen, vice dean of the Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences at Bar-Ilan University, believes that with an average of about 2,000 new cases a day, the current restrictions are too little and too late to control the pandemic.

"The government has decided to keep things almost as usual, so none of these restrictions are really meaningful and will not have an effect on morbidity levels," Cohen told Xinhua.

"There is nothing in the horizon that will stop the infection rate," he said. "The third vaccine can help decrease the rate of severe cases, but the virus will still be there."

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