Israel must continue to send international travelers to self-isolate upon their arrival in the country to prevent the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, a senior health expert said Sunday.
Prof. Yehuda Adler, a cardiology expert and internist, also called for more stringent enforcement of quarantine and broader virus testing. "We just have to look at the pandemic raging in India, Australia, and Eastern Europe. We are not an island," he told Ynet.
Adler added that Israel is currently in good shape and has yet to detect mass Omicron outbreaks.
"The R number [which gauges the number of people that one infected person will pass on a virus to, on average] is dropping, and vaccines are working against the new variant, albeit they may be less effective against Omicron, but they still work. What's worrying is the outbreak in South Africa, because we still can't point out the reason."
The cardiologist also recommended taking the World Health Organization's (WHO) announcement there were no reported deaths from the new variant with a grain of salt.
"It's a very strange statement. How do they know who died of Omicron and who died of the Delta variant? They can't possibly know that. I wouldn't take this statement seriously," Adler said.
"What worries me is enforcement of [self-isolation of] those who return to Israel. Most of them don't take the test on their third day of isolation, but only on the fourth or fifth, meaning they are not in quarantine at all, and 17% don't get tested at all. These days of isolation are critical, including to those who are vaccinated, and basically, this attempt to monitor the new variant has failed because there is no enforcement."
Adler also called on Israeli leaders to avoid resorting to high-handed panic measures after Israel halted a controversial contact tracing program of Omicron carriers using the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency following broad public backlash.
"It was unnecessary. The state of emergency that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett declared wasn't an emergency at all, and I've said it. Based on one graph coming from South Africa, you can't declare an emergency. You have to understand the epidemiology, it doesn't work that way, he said."
"The important thing is not to panic, the government acted swiftly and responded well. Keeping the tests on the third day is essential for anyone returning from abroad, it must not be canceled, and it should have been done earlier. This has nothing to do with the Omicron variant. These tests help contain and monitor the COVID pandemic."