Delta variant pushes Israeli coronavirus cases to six-month high

Rise in infections has sparked alarm within the government, which is offering third vaccine doses to people aged over 60

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Israel registered more than 6,000 coronavirus cases on Monday, the highest figure in six months, as officials urged residents to get vaccinated.

About 98 per cent of the 6,275 new cases are of the Delta coronavirus variant, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday.

After three nationwide lockdowns and a fast-paced vaccination campaign launched in December, daily cases plummeted to double digits throughout May.

“Israel's first case of Delta was in early April 2021. However, the fourth wave of Covid-19 began only in mid June,” a ministry representative told The National.

Israel, which has a population of nine million, last registered more than 6,000 cases in a day on February 9, ministry data showed.

While the number of tests carried out fluctuates, the infection rate provides a consistent measure of how widespread the virus is within society.

A month ago less than 1 per cent of tests were positive, compared with Monday’s figure of 4.84 per cent.

The increase has sparked alarm within the Israeli government, which is offering third doses to the over-60s and pushing those unvaccinated to get their shots.

There are currently 394 seriously ill coronavirus patients in hospital, up from 39 a month ago.

“Whoever has not yet been vaccinated, go now and get vaccinated,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday.

“We are working together very closely in order to begin bending the graphs and to overcome the pandemic with minimal harm and minimal restrictions."

Nearly 60 per cent of people in Israel have received two doses, compared with about 8 per cent of Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

Israel has vaccinated Palestinians with Israeli work permits and has rejected criticism for not providing doses to the wider population.

After scrapping most restrictions in March, the government has reintroduced various rules, including mask-wearing at large events.

Entry to venues such as gyms is also limited to those with a pass proving that they are vaccinated, recently tested or recovered from coronavirus.

Israel has further tightened its border controls and barred residents from visiting 14 countries, while travellers from most other destinations must enter quarantine on their return.

The government has also postponed indefinitely its plan to reopen the country to tourists, which was scheduled for July 1, although some foreigners have been allowed to take bus tours.

Despite the increase in cases, the Education Ministry is intent on starting the school year on September 1. Coronavirus tests will be introduced to pupils before they return to the classroom, while the ministry has also outlined quarantine rules if cases are detected in schools.

Updated: August 10, 2021, 2:29 PM