Coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash warned Sunday that mass coronavirus infections could still occur in Israel despite the country's successful COVID vaccination drive and the subsequent drastic reduction in active cases.
As of Sunday, there were 1,805 active cases of COVID-19 in Israel, with just 248 patients being hospitalized for treatment. A total of 6,350 people have died so far from the disease.
"The pandemic has not ended, but we are in very good condition, thanks to the vaccines first and foremost and to our daily conduct at this time as well," said Ash.
“You could say that vaccines are our medical Iron Dome - protecting us and allowing the people of Israel to return to routine while the pathogen runs amuck in the rest of the world."
Ash added that despite Israel’s inoculation drive, which has seen more than 80% of the adult population vaccinated, a case of mass infection took place only recently in the city of Pardes Hanna-Karkur. A total of 46 people were infected with the virus, including 38 children.
"The infection started with two parents who were not vaccinated,” said Ash.
“Among those infected during the outbreak were two vaccinated mothers, one of whom works in a number of kindergartens, which were closed and people placed in isolation,” he said.
“The point is, even now mass infections can happen between parents and children. That is why obeying quarantine procedures is critical in case someone is found positive for COVID.”
Ash also advised Israelis to avoid any non-essential flights, adding that the country’s pandemic-related travel warning - which currently includes Mexico, India, Brazil, Turkey, Ethiopia and Ukraine - will be revised on a regular basis.
“Each person needs to decide which trip is essential and which isn’t,” said Ash.
“Regarding the travel warning, the list is dynamic. We will review it each week. Currently we are also considering mandatory isolation for all returnees, but that depends on future data.”
Ash added that compulsory isolation for children returning from abroad will stay in place, due to the fact that children cannot receive the vaccine at this time, and therefore can spread variants of the virus that could prove to be somewhat resistant to the vaccines.
“Isolation is the most important precaution of all. That is why all people who are not vaccinated or recovering must adhere to it,” he said.
Ash said he believed that a third dose of the vaccine would be needed further down the line.
"A year is a good estimate," he said. "It could be administered a year after the second jab. It will be based on Pfizer's research and what we find with regards to antibodies in blood tests.”
He said that the Health Ministry is working to promote the use of PCR tests, which would be used by non-vaccinated Israelis 72 hours before events meant only for Green Pass holders who have either received both doses of the vaccine or recovered from COVID-19.
According to Ash, the use of PCR tests will allow people who do not have a Green Pass, such as children or those who cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons, to attend events and enter leisure facilities originally meant for Green Pass holders only.
The professor also urged those attending Lag BaOmer events on Thursday to adhere to the guidelines.
"If you choose to attend said events, behave with caution. Wear masks and ensure the sufficient ventilation of enclosed spaces while keeping proper distances from one another.”