Test Kits Running Out on Way to Herd Immunity

YERUSHALAYIM -
Health care workers take Covid test samples of Israelis in a drive-through complex in Yerushalayim, Sunday. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

As new covid cases mount and herd immunity in Israel appears a real prospect in the near term, it could be that the country will reach that level but without being able to verify it for lack of testing equipment, The Times of Israel said on Sunday.

Leading coronavirus analyst Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute estimated that 2-4 million out of Israel’s total population of some 9.5 million will sooner or later contract the Omicron variant.

But, as he told Army Radio on Sunday, “from a certain stage — 20,000 or 30,000 infections per day — we will become oblivious to the numbers because we don’t have enough tests. The test apparatus is already collapsing.”

“What will happen, like what is happening all over the world, is that the restrictions that somewhat worked [against other variants] will simply be ineffective against Omicron, and the stop will only come when almost everyone who could get infected gets infected,” predicting that it would take around three weeks before numbers start to drop.

Though Segal did not use the term “herd immunity,” his remarks appeared to be consistent with those of Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash that Israel could soon reach herd immunity.

There were long lines of people waiting to be tested at facilities around the country on Sunday, indicating that the system is already under considerable stress.

Meanwhile, experts from the Gertner Institute and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology presented a range of possible scenarios to Health Ministry officials and hospital managers, one of which forecast that 99% of Israel’s population would eventually be infected with Omicron.

Hospitals have been warning that the system will have great difficulty in coping with such numbers, and that emergency measures will have to be implemented.

Health Ministry figures published Sunday morning showed that 4,197 new cases were confirmed on Saturday, a figure representing reduced testing on weekends, with the rate of positive tests rising to 4.57 percent.

Daily infections in Israel have spiked from under 1,000 new cases some 10 days ago to almost 5,500 on Friday, and active cases have almost tripled in a week to 31,958. The total confirmed infections since the start of the pandemic stand at close to 1.4 million.

However, serious cases have seen a far more moderate increase, from 77 on December 22 to 110 on Sunday. The death toll remained at 8,244. There have been four COVID-related deaths in the country since December 21.

Segal urged Israelis who haven’t received their booster vaccines to get them, retweeting new British data showing that the third shot increased the protection against Omicron hospitalization from 52 percent to 88%.