Key COVID-19 transmission figure hits 3-month high as renewed outbreak intensifies

As COVID-19 infections continued to rise steadily, a key figure measuring the virus’s spread reached its highest value in three months on Sunday.

The virus’s basic reproduction number, or R-value, reached 1.44, as the ministry reported that 3,259 new patients were diagnosed the day before.

The R-value, which represents the situation 10 days earlier, measures how many people each coronavirus carrier infects on average, with any number above 1 meaning the spread of COVID-19 is increasing. It first began to rise above 1 in mid-May, having stayed below the threshold for nearly two months.

Out of the 11,606 COVID-19 tests carried out Saturday, 29.77 percent returned positive, the highest rate since the first week of April.

There were 105 patients in serious condition, according to ministry figures. The number of seriously ill steadily dropped since mid-March, but over the past month plateaued and now started to slightly rise.

Coronavirus czar Salman Zarka told Radio 103FM Sunday that he does not yet see the country as being in a full-fledged outbreak, but urged the public to resume wearing face masks.

Coronavirus czar Prof. Salman Zarka seen during a press conference near Tel Aviv, on November 9, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Zarka said only “the tip of the iceberg” is being recorded and that there is a significant number of people who either do not test themselves when experiencing COVID symptoms, or do not report to authorities if a home test returns a positive result.

“We see an increase. We are taking it seriously and making assessments,” Zarka said. “It is highly recommended to the public, especially to at-risk populations, to return to wearing a mask indoors.”

But he said there is no intention at the moment to introduce any restrictions on the public as were applied over the past two years.

“We aren’t at a point of restrictions. We are only at the start of a rise,” Zarka said.

There are now 25,859 active patients confirmed in the country.

Health Ministry officials will this week meet to discuss reimposing an indoor mask mandate, the Kan public broadcaster reported on Saturday.

The indoor face mask rule, which had been one of the last virus-related public health orders, was lifted on April 23. Masks are still required in health and medical centers.

Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz met with health officials and agreed that there would be no new virus restrictions implemented at this stage.

Zarka said at the time that health officials would weigh the possibility of recommending a fifth dose of the vaccine to some segments of the population, but a health advisory team declared later that it did not recommend rolling out another booster yet, and said that such a decision would be weighed again in accordance with morbidity rates.

Israel has largely dropped all its coronavirus restrictions, with the exception of isolation for those who test positive and a mask requirement in medical institutions.

Israel has gone through five waves of COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic in 2020. It made mass vaccination a central strategy for dealing with the virus, and Sunday’s figures showed that so far, out of the population of some 9.5 million, 6,710,267 had received at least one dose.

Of those, 6,141,921 have had a second shot, and 4,495,625 have had three shots. There are also 814,955 who have had four doses.

Since the start of the pandemic, 10,872 people in Israel have died of COVID-19.

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