Jerusalem: About half of the coronavirus cases in Israel sent for genetic sequencing are found to be caused by the Omicron variant, health officials said on Monday.
Covid cases in Israel have been on a sharp rise for several days. In the last week, almost 10,000 new cases have been reported, marking an 81 per cent increase from the previous week, Jerusalem Post reported.
According to the latest update on Saturday night, there were 1,118 identified Omicron cases in the country and another 800 people were highly suspected of carrying it, but likely the number is much higher.
“No one, and especially those who have children in the education system, will escape this wave in a way or another,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was quoted as saying on Ynet, even as the country on Monday started the fourth dose of Covid vaccines.
Until recently, the Delta variant was still considered to be the dominant one in Israel, but experts believe that the new explosion in the number of cases must be caused by Omicron, which is known to be highly contagious.
A panel of experts from the Hebrew University stated that Omicron is set to become the dominant strain of Covid in Israel within one to two weeks, and it could spread so fast that quarantine will become “rampant”, The Times of Israel reported.
Prof Nadav Katz predicted that the number of new infections will double weekly, and that the proportion of them that are Omicron will grow sharply. If this happens, Covid restrictions are likely to be bolstered with social distancing rules, such as more work-from-home in the private sector, within two weeks, he said.
The new variant has been detected in wastewaters in 19 different locations in the country, Health Ministry data showed, demonstrating that it is now widespread, the report said.
While there is limited data on virulence of the variant, Katz noted that almost 1 in 20 children will end up in serious condition. The researchers predict that by late January, around 4 per cent of the seriously ill will be children.
“This emphasises the benefits of vaccinating children,” they said in a statement.
About 90,512 people, almost 1 per cent of Israelis, are currently in quarantine, according to the Health Ministry. This includes the Prime Minister, who entered quarantine after one of his daughters was found infected with Covid. While Bennett himself has tested negative, he said he was going to continue to isolate as a precaution.
Further, Israel is also registering an increase in serious morbidity, the report said. As of Monday, there were 87 serious patients. While the number remains limited and only slightly higher than in previous days, when it stood at around 80-82, there was a rise of 108 per cent of new serious patients in the past seven days compared to the seven days before.