Israel’s Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash announced on Thursday evening his endorsement of a fourth shot of coronavirus vaccines for immunocompromised individuals “due to concerns that they are more vulnerable” as the omicron variant spreads in the country.
Prof. Ash held off on giving his approval earlier this month, after the Health Ministry’s expert advisory panel recommended the fourth shot, saying that more time was needed for evaluation of the data.
Ash said health officials will also review the possibility of allowing others to have the additional dose.
Ash also surprised the country with an announcement that a mask mandate outdoors where more than 50 people are gathered will go back into effect as of midnight on Thursday.
Reinstatement of the masking requirement had not been part of public discussions in recent months.
Also on Thursday, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz acknowledged rising infection rates, but said things are “under control” and “we will continue living alongside the coronavirus.”
Lockdown “is not on the table,” he said.
The minister’s reassurance was in contrast to what Brig.-Col. Reli Margalit, outgoing head of the IDF Home Front Command’s Alon Command Center, told Yediot Ahronot on Thursday, that he was “very, very disturbed” by the new variant. The center works on epidemiological investigations, contact tracing, testing, labs and quarantining.
Margalit voiced concern about how the more contagious omicron will affect hospitals, predicting that the number of people infected and needing hospitalization will be “insane,” tens of thousands every day.
“The health care system will collapse,” he was quoted as saying. “There will be people who will not be able to be hospitalized even though their condition will require hospitalization. Our hospitals will reach a reality that has never existed in the State of Israel.”
However, Joshua (Shuki) Shemer, chairman of the board of Assuta Medical Centers, did not share Margalit’s level of alarm.
He told Maariv on Thursday that “we have a strong and good healthcare system. It is true that there is a relative manpower shortage but if, God forbid, the same scenario described occurs and there will be a large number of patients, some of the resources will be diverted to deal with the emergency.”
Updated Thursday, December 30, 2021 at 2:05 pm .