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To panic or not to panic? Omicron wave brings mixed messages from Israeli officials as daily infections top 10,000

Are ominous predictions of 50K cases a day "totally unnecessary apocalyptic scenarios" or cause for concern?

Cars line up at a drive-through COVID-19 testing center in Tel Aviv, Jan. 3, 2022. (Photo: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

While positive COVID cases in Israel reached 10,600 yesterday – surging toward the former pandemic record of more than 12,000 in one day – conflicting messages emerged from top health and government officials as to whether the public should panic or not over the rapidly rising numbers.

The Panic Camp

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at a press conference Sunday: “Today we are facing over 5,000 verified cases a day. By the weekend I estimate that we will have crossed the line of 20,000 verified cases and for the peak of the wave, it could be that we will pass 50,000 verified cases.”

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, told Channel 13 news on Monday: “We are trying as much as possible to reduce infections and lessen the force of this wave, but it will be a high wave,” she said. “We see that Omicron infects people who are recovering [from previous variants]. How can I be sure that the next variant won’t infect people who caught Omicron? … We don’t have a red line for going to a lockdown but it’s enough to look where we were in previous waves and understand how taut the [healthcare] system was with 1,200 serious patients.”

Coronavirus czar Salman Zarka: “In the situation we are in, light restrictions won’t help. We can go toward very significant restrictions like the first lockdown, because other restrictions won’t bring down infections.”

The Non-panic Camp

On the other hand, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said on Monday that “totally unnecessary apocalyptic scenarios, with no value,… are causing fear among the public.”

“I want to calm things down. We understand the infection is spreading, but there’s no reason to fearmonger among the public and there’s no need to panic,” he said

Former coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu echoed Horowitz’s optimism and said this current wave is likely to give Israel herd immunity against COVID-19: “We will see a higher number of recovered people after Omicron. All together, the recovered people plus the vaccinated and boosted people will give us herd immunity.”

“Gradually you will have herd immunity – this is the way that epidemics and pandemics go,” Gamzu said.

Regardless of who is right on the numbers, here is what we do know:

  • Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are likely to end up in quarantine according to governmental policy as the chain of infection spirals out of control

  • Some 100,000 Israelis 60 years old and up, medical workers and immunocompromised received their fourth infection on the first day of the campaign on Monday or booked an appointment to receive one

“The vaccines protect us from serious illness and needing to quarantine, and the public understands that,” Bennett said on Monday.

Read more: COVID 19

Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS

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