Israel's coronavirus czar said Thursday that extra caution is warranted in the coming weeks because of a potential surge in COVID cases after the start of the school year and the Jewish High Holidays that begin next week.
Prof. Salman Zarka's warning comes as COVID cases break daily records around the country, attributed to the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant.
"When we look at the numbers, we see there is more stability, a more measured increase. This is cause for optimism, but we need to see the whole picture. We have a very challenging month ahead of us,” said Zarka. "Every gathering holds the potential for more infections,” he said.
Israel this month celebrates the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot.
“I said September was going to be very challenging for us. We talked about the schools, which we unfortunately know will most likely increase infections. We saw this happening in the ultra-Orthodox sector where schools opened in the middle of August.
“During the holidays there is also quite a bit of potential for further infections. As we congregate in schools, among family, in synagogues, there is a high risk of infection and disease,” said Zarka.
The coronavirus czar was critical of cultural and sporting events, many of which with audiences in the tens of thousands, saying the government should have banned them a long time ago when the fourth wave first hit.
“I think the reopening of the school year and the High Holidays will cause an increase in infections. That is why I believe we need to reduce mass gatherings that are perhaps less important.
"We don’t want a lockdown, it will not solve our problems. We want to find the correct balance. That is why the reopening of the school year and the big vaccination drive are both part of our solution.”
Zarka said also warned that health mitigation directives are often disregarded.
“I saw a soccer game with a big crowd, where the health directives were ignored. Pretty quickly the ministries of sports and public security and the football league director realized that this could not go on. We held an emergency meeting and happily saw better compliance with regulations, in the next games."
He said he recommends everyone to get vaccinated, especially those at risk of developing a serious illness from COVID, before the holidays.
“At the moment, the vaccine is available to everyone, and is in stock,” said the czar, referring to the third jab which was rolled out for anyone over the age of 12 earlier this week.
“I highly recommend to families wishing to celebrate the holiday to administer serology tests to children and unvaccinated family members before gathering for the festive meal."
First published: 13:13, 09.02.21