Over the next few weeks, there will be a tussle in Israel between the vaccination drive and rising virus cases - the battle for the R rate, which determines whether the number of Covid-19 infections grows or diminishes. Less vaccinations will mean more infections and more restrictions, and vice-versa.
Prof. Manfred Green, Head of the School of Public Health at the University of Haifa, estimates that to reach a balance between new virus cases without any overall restrictions, especially with the now dominant British variant, Israel needs to vaccinate 80-85% of its population. "We are not there and it's not sure that we will get there. There are still and there will probably continue to be a large enough part of the population that will remain unvaccinated, so that without restrictions and if the restrictions are not applied, the infection rate will rise in the coming months. But small changes like putting masks on above the nose can make a big difference in tilting the figures."
He added, "If people put the mask above the nose and not just around their chins, then our situation would be much better. People put the mask around the chin and then lift it when they are near people. The intentions are good but then the mask catches all the infection from the person standing in front of us, and then you push down the virus infested mask that was right under your nose. It's worse than not having a mask on at all. If you put it on and off between meetings, then don't wear one at all."
Prof. Orna Baron-Epel of the School of Public Health at the University of Haifa is optimistic that there will be an improvement in some regions in the country. "There is no doubting that we are seeing the effect of the vaccinations. We are expecting to see it even more strongly now there are options open for all parts of the population to be vaccinated - the parts in which we are regularly seeing more infections."
The immediate scenario then in Israel could be pictures of the kind that we saw in northern Italy and New York a year ago. This would continue until the number of people recovering from the virus, together with those vaccinated, gives us herd immunity. That is of course on condition that a new mutation that is resistant to the vaccination, and the antibodies of those who already have the disease, doesn't suddenly sweep through the country. How long will this take? That depends on how many people get vaccinated and the behavior of the public at large.
The experts recommend preparing in the best possible way to face up to the imminent storm. Investing in the health infrastructure and treatment facilities, and rapid testing, and in the education system insisting that while vaccinated teachers can teach in the schools, non-vaccinated teachers must teach remotely and not opening schools in red districts.
Regarding commerce, culture and synagogues, people are advised to gather outdoors rather than indoors where possible.
"People who have been vaccinated should be exempt from isolation," said Prof. Green. "The chances of being infected are smaller and the chances of infecting others are reduced, and the combination between them is not very dangerous. The advantages of a green passport as an incentive for being vaccinated is higher than the damages as far as I see it. But I would still recommend wearing masks and social distancing."
Will families be able to celebrate Pesach together at the end of March?
Baron Epel: I think so.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 7, 2021
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