Rate of positive COVID tests hits 3-month low; nearly 4 million fully vaccinated

Israel’s COVID-19 test positivity rate reached its lowest point in almost three months Thursday, underlining the effectiveness of the country’s rapid vaccination campaign.

Only 2.9 percent of coronavirus test results that returned Wednesday were positive, the lowest figure since December 13, according to Health Ministry data.

The figures showed 2,802 cases were confirmed Wednesday, bringing the country’s total to 812,823. Out of 36,712 active cases, 645 were in serious condition, including 259 on ventilators and 211 classified as critical. The death toll climbed to 5,955.

At least 5,072,725 Israelis have been vaccinated, of whom almost 4 million — 3,999,725 — have received both doses of the Pfizer inoculation.

According to Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute, 86% of Israelis aged 16 and up have now either been vaccinated against the disease or recovered from it.

That has caused infections to steadily drop in recent weeks, despite the more infectious new mutated coronavirus strains proliferating and despite the economy gradually reopening.

The coronavirus’s basic reproduction number, or R0, dropped Thursday to 0.85.

The figure represents the average number of people each virus carrier infects. When it is over 1, the outbreak is worsening, and when it is under 1 it’s abating. The figure given on any day depicts the situation 10 days earlier.

A chart shared Thursday by Segal on Twitter showed the R0 has been dramatically dropping, despite the eased restrictions. The rate had climbed significantly after Israel’s second lockdown was eased last year.

He said new cases have been dropping at a weekly rate of around 30%.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said Wednesday that the falling transmission rate and significant decrease in new cases meant that he did not envisage any further lockdowns ahead of the Passover holiday, which begins March 27.

Speaking to Radio 103FM, Ash noted that although there was a high chance there will not be a further lockdown ahead of the holiday, “nothing is certain.”

Ash’s comments were backed up by Health Ministry Director Chezy Levy, who told the Ynet news site that he “hopes that we can loosen the restrictions on [the number of people] gathering so that families can celebrate with more people and celebrate Pesach properly.”

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash at the coronavirus department at Ziv hospital in Safed, northern Israel, December 24, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The promising figures come as Israel embarks on the next exit phase from its third nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

Much of the economy reopened Sunday as the lockdown was further rolled back, including restaurants, cafes, school grades 7-10 in low- to medium-infection areas, event venues, attractions and hotels. Higher education institutions and religious seminaries were opened to vaccinated or recovered people and rules on gatherings and worship were relaxed.

The cabinet also decided to ease restrictions on international travel and sidelined a highly controversial committee that was deciding who could enter or leave the country while the airport remained largely shuttered.

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