A senior health official on Tuesday said that a lockdown will no longer be effective in stopping the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus in Israel.
With Omicron pushing daily infection cases to record highs, Israel has been struggling to contain the variant, reporting earlier this week over 1.5 million infections since the pandemic began. The government, nevertheless, refused to implement strict curbs on movement, opting instead for a policy of "living alongside the pandemic".
"We've moved to a new type of battle, a low-frequency one, against a strain that is very infectious but causes a milder illness," said Deputy Director-General of Sheba Medical Center Prof. Arnon Afek.
"We cannot deal with the Omicron as we did with the Delta variant, a lockdown will be ineffective with such a high reproductive rate. It will cause more harm than good."
Asked what steps he would take against the variant, Afek said that the first step must be identifying the groups most at risk from the strain and ensuring that vaccination rates among them are high.
"Even if the wave is less lethal, there are still going to be serious cases," he said. "We need to increase the vaccination rates among the general public, as well as among children. The vaccine is our best tool and it will slowly stop the spread. In addition, we also need to make sure those who recovered from the virus also get inoculated."
Afek also praised the official for approving the fourth vaccine shot for over 60s and immunosuppressed but added the second booster shot campaign should be expanded to other sectors of the population.
The former Health Ministry director-general added that another step that needs to be taken is not implementing wide restrictions, but ensuring the personal safety of those who are at risk from the virus, such as the elderly.
"For example, I tell my parents, 'don't go anywhere, protect yourself because you are part of the high-risk group,'" Afek said.
"They took the vaccine of course, but we need to help them. We need to tell the elderly or the ill 'we will make sure you can work from home, we will bring you medicine and food.' The state can do this and it will prevent more problems from spawning up."
Regarding the question of whether Israel should shut down its schools due to high morbidity, Afek said that the issue should be taken care of on a micro level, but that he objects to a nationwide shutdown of the education system.
"If there are infected, move to distant learning, but generally speaking, there is no need to shut down," he said. "I would also ease up a bit with mass public gatherings since people are not fully careful there. I would refrain from such events for now."
Afek stressed that one of the most crucial measures needed is additional aid to Israel's hospitals and health funds.
"We asked the state for 321 ICU beds to at least reach minimal global standards, but we have yet to receive them," he said. "We know how to protect the people of Israel, just give us the tools to do it. Give us funds for more wards and beds. It will be much cheaper for the state than a lockdown. With two days of closure we can rebuild the whole health system."
First published: 14:44, 01.11.22