JVP-HAC: Covid 19 Timeline December 19, 2021 – January 1, 2022

J. W. Associate Blog, Gaza, Humanitarian affairs, Israel, Palestine

by Alice Rothchild, MD

We’re pleased to repost this weekly report by JWE board member Alice Rothchild, MD, which was earlier posted by the Jewish Voice for Peace Health Advisory Council (JVP-HAC)

This resource will be updated regularly to provide a full picture of the unfolding pandemic and the medical, political and economic ramifications in real time.

Please note that Coronavirus cases are an underestimate given the lack of testing, resources, and asymptomatic carriers and up-to-date numbers from the oPt are often confusing.  We recognize that in resource poor areas just as Gaza and the West Bank, these numbers are a major underrepresentation and fail to reflect the impact of the pandemic. For instance, on 12/18, numbers for the West Bank were reported by Mondoweiss, numbers for January 1 are from the Ministry of Health and are lower. Numbers on East Jerusalem are barely changed and thus subject to suspicion and may be also within the West Bank or Israel data.

 If you would like to receive this weekly timeline, a monthly Media Watch, and the occasional article/action alert, please email us at health@jewishvoiceforpeace.org

Cumulative cases of coronavirus in Israel and the Occupied territories
Cumulative cases of coronavirus in Gaza

As of January 1, 2022
Israel 1,383,939
West Bank
(excluding EJ) 237,538 (Corona-Covid 19 surveillance system)
East Jerusalem 30,376
(Coronavirus – Covid 19 surveillance system)  increased by 20 cases in 2 weeks, ? accuracy
for Jerusalem governorate 42,178 (Coronavirus – Covid 19 surveillance system)
Gaza : 190,427
(MOH) 190, 371 (Coronavirus – Covid 19 surveillance system)
Total 470,303
(Reuters Covid 19 tracker) 469,748 (12/26 WHO) 470,088 (Coronavirus – Covid 19 surveillance system)

As of December 18, 2021
Israel 1,354,001
West Bank 235,101
(excluding EJ) (Corona-Covid 19 surveillance system) 246,551  (Mondoweiss)
East Jerusalem 30,356 
(Coronavirus – Covid 19 surveillance system) unchanged in 9 weeks, so probably not accurate
for Jerusalem governorate 42,111 (Coronavirus – Covid 19 surveillance system)
Gaza :188,922 
(12/16  MOH)  189,113 (Coronavirus – Covid 19 surveillance system)
Total oPt 466,162 
(Reuters Covid 19 tracker) 465,094   ( 12/17 WHO) 466,325 (Coronavirus – Covid 19 surveillance system) 465,829 (Mondoweiss) 

As of December 11, 2021
Israel 1,349,385
West Bank 233,640 
(excluding EJ) (Corona-Covid 19 surveillance system)  245,046 (12/10 Mondoweiss)
East Jerusalem 30,356 
(Coronavirus – Covid 19 surveillance system) unchanged in 8 weeks, so probably not accurate
for Jerusalem governorate 42,074  (Coronavirus – Covid 19 surveillance system)
Gaza  187,947 
(12/8  MOH) 188,320 (Coronavirus – Covid 19 surveillance system) 188,171 (12/10 Mondoweiss)
Total oPt 463,903 
(Reuters Covid 19 tracker) 463,573  (12/10 WHO) 464,034 (Coronavirus – Covid 19 surveillance system) 

December 19 Israel
Israel plans to consider adding a slew of countries, including the United States, to its so-called red list of high-risk destinations, effectively barring Israelis from visiting. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett supports expanding restrictions on international travel and on commerce in hopes of increasing vaccination rates, as Omicron continues to spread worldwide. At this stage, he does not intend to fully shut down international travel.

Multiple attendees of this month’s Israeli-American Council summit in Miami have reportedly contracted COVID-19, sparking fears that despite masking and vaccination requirements, the virus was able to spread.  Israel recorded 40 new Omicron cases, taking the total cases of the variant to 175. Assessments presented to PM Bennett on 12/18 predicted that the number of Omicron cases in Israel will reach 400 to 600 over the next week, in light of the number of cases that cannot be traced back to people who traveled abroad.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government is advancing a law to charge people to check in to COVID hotels, in which many arrivals are mandated to quarantine, after spending almost half a billion shekels since the onset of the pandemic. The police arrested three protesters on 12/18. The amendment that was submitted to the legislative committee by Bennett and Health Minister Horowitz will shift the cost of the hotel stay away from the government and onto the travelers.

Police arrested three protesters on 12/18 outside Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s home in Ra’anana, after using leather whips and a water cannon to disperse the demonstration against the government’s vaccination policies and restrictions imposed to fight the pandemic. 

December 20 Israel
Israel expanded its travel ban to ten new countries, including the United States, Canada, and Germany, as the total number of Omicron cases in the country reached 175.
Israel’s cabinet expanded the list of so-called “red countries” to include Italy, Belgium, Hungary, Morocco, Portugal, Turkey, and Switzerland. The ban will come into effect 12/21 at midnight.

In this article, Ido Efrati gives a detailed review of the year 2021 with a focus on Israel’s experience with COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination campaigns.

With little more than a day to go before American tourists are officially barred from entering Israel, 160 participants in Birthright’s free 10-day trips landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport. The program received a special exemption from the previous overall ban on incoming tourism imposed several weeks ago when the Omicron variant was identified.
The decision to exempt Birthright and other Jewish travel programs from the overall ban on incoming tourism was made by Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked. It sparked outrage in the local Christian community as pilgrim groups planning to celebrate Christmas in the Holy Land were denied entry.

December 21 Israel
As of now, there are 175 Omicron cases in Israel, however experts believe that by the end of this week, the number will more than double to at least 400 cases. The Health Ministry suspects another 380 cases to be Omicron. The numbers are still relatively small, but the increase in the number of confirmed COVID cases and the jump in the R number has led some experts to believe that undetected Omicron cases are already responsible for the rise in case numbers.

Ultra-Orthodox leader Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky doubled down on his support for vaccinating children against COVID-19, despite a campaign of harassment and intimidation by anti-vaccine activists.

Israel has confirmed 170 new cases of the Omicron variant, the Health Ministry said, bringing the total number of confirmed cases of the highly infectious variant to 341. The Health Ministry said it was looking into 807 COVID cases that may be Omicron, but have yet to be confirmed. Meanwhile, the number of new coronavirus cases continues to soar, but the number of patients in serious condition remains stable, according to official figures.

As a result of the spread of Omicron around the world, Israel is preparing for a fifth COVID wave. Israel is likely to face thousands of COVID cases caused by the new Omicron variant within the next two to four weeks, according to a Health Ministry forecast presented to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett over the weekend.

Israel’s Meuhedet Health Services reported that over the past three days between 30 and 40% of all the positive tests for the coronavirus are suspected of being the Omicron variant. Just 10 days ago the figure was only 3%. The great majority of those tested at Israeli HMOs are local people who have not traveled overseas.

Israel is to begin rolling out a fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccine with immediate effect for people ages 60 and over, medical workers, and people with suppressed immune systems, the Prime Minister’s Office announced following a recommendation from the country’s panel of coronavirus experts. Those eligible for the fourth dose can receive it provided at least four months have passed since the third dose, it said. In Israel, almost all vaccinated citizens have received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

December 23 Occupied territories
·       New COVID-19 infections are registered leading to an increase in the number of cases across oPt. Gaza Strip leads by ratio of 42.1% of all active cases, while Ramallah takes the lead in number of cases in the West Bank (15.2%) 
·       Positivity in the oPt is increasing (6.93 in West Bank and 11.3 in Gaza Strip) Rt is currently at 1.03 
·       Palestinian Ministry of Health (MoH) declared on 21 December registration of 6 Omicron cases in the West Bank, no cases registered yet in Gaza. MoH also said that the necessary kits for Omicron tests are now available in the West Bank.

December 23 Israel
Israel’s rate of infection hit its highest point since August, though serious cases remain low. The R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – reached 1.34, the highest figure since the beginning of August. The new daily cases also hit 1,400, the highest since mid-October. About 81% of Tel Aviv’s positive tests were among children. In Haifa, children make up 57% of cases, while the figure stands at 39% in Jerusalem.

Several people describe Israel’s COVID tracking system to Haaretz as dysfunctional, while authorities avoid disclosing detailed information about the country’s first line of defense. There seems to be little oversight and less testing in Israel’s COVID Quarantine Tracking Program.

Israel is considering whether to approve a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose for vulnerable people to contain the fast-spreading Omicron variant, despite debate among scientists and a lack of evidence either for or against another booster.
The panel of experts advising the Israeli government on the pandemic recognized that uncertainty, but it recommended giving a fourth dose, concluding that the potential benefits outweighed the risks. It pointed to signs of waning immunity a few months after the third shot, and said that any delay in additional doses might prove too late to protect those most at risk.
But some scientists warned that the plan could backfire, because too many shots might cause a sort of immune system fatigue, compromising the body’s ability to fight the coronavirus. 
New York Times

December 24 Occupied territories
According to the Reuters coronavirus tracker, 44 coronavirus infections per 100,000 people (or 12% of the peak) were reported in the last week in the occupied Palestinian territories. The territories reported 300 new infections on average each day; 467,930 infections and 4,887 deaths have been reported since the onset of the pandemic. So far, at least 3,315,774 doses of vaccine have been administered in the territories, or the equivalent of 35.4% of the population covered with two doses. During the last week reported, an average of about 9,350 doses were given each day; at that rate, it will take an additional 101 days to reach another 10% of the population.

December 24 Israel
Doubling itself at a rate of somewhere between every two and three days, Omicron will become the dominant variant of the coronavirus in Israel, shunting aside the Delta variant within about two weeks. One practical result of this is already clear – Israel, within a few weeks, will break its daily infection record that was set back in January, during the third wave of the pandemic: more than 10,000 new cases in a single day.

December 25 Israel
Israel has confirmed 591 new cases of the Omicron variant, the Health Ministry said, more than doubling the total number of confirmed carriers in the country, which now stands at 1,118 – up from 527 on the morning of the 24th. There are 861 other confirmed COVID cases in people who are known to have been exposed to an Omicron carrier, but await lab results to confirm whether they indeed have omicron.
Overall new coronavirus cases and Israel’s R number continued to rise  but the number of serious cases stood at 90 compared to 91 the previous day. Of these, 34 were on ventilators. Six people have died over the virus over the past week, raising the death toll since the start of the pandemic to 8,241.

December 26 Occupied territories
The Palestinian Health Ministry said it had identified the first case of the Omicron variant of coronavirus in the Gaza Strip. The carrier is a Gaza resident who was infected within the coastal territory, ministry official Majdi Dhair told a news conference. “We are headed for a difficult time and violent wave [of infection] with the entry of Omicron into the Gaza Strip,” Dhair said in a press briefing.

December 26 Israel
Despite Omicron, Israel continues to allow potential superspreader events. While travel restrictions paralyze the airport and gathering restrictions are enforced in malls, Israelis are partying at weddings and bar mitzvahs despite high risk of infection.

Israel is “rapidly approaching” the point at which restrictions on international travel will become less relevant, as the Omicron strain of the coronavirus continues to spread within the country,” the Israeli expert panel advising the government on the pandemic said.

Israel’s Health Ministry recorded 98 active serious COVID cases, marking a 24% increase over the last eight days, as fears grow of an Omicron wave overwhelming the country. Of the new serious cases this past week, 75% were not inoculated at all, even though the unvaccinated account for only 31% of Israel’s population. Per capita, the unvaccinated suffer from serious illness from COVID at 10 times the rate of the vaccinated.

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has approved the imposition of government restrictions on unvaccinated people in an effort to encourage them to get the jab, regardless of whether those restrictions are demonstrably epidemiologically effective. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz are weighing bringing a few proposals to the cabinet, designed to bolster restrictions on unvaccinated people.  

December 27 Israel

Israel now offers COVID boosters after three months and requires vaccine proof in malls. Those who have recovered from COVID can also get a booster three months after their latest shot. The number of new seriously ill patients has been steadily climbing over the past five days, and the Omicron variant is expected to account for 90% of new COVID cases within days. Nonetheless, Israel is set to lift its travel ban on most African countries and some European destinations, but not the US, Mexico, or 13 other countries with high infection rates.

December 28 Israel
Israeli PM Bennett calls on unvaccinated Israelis to ‘stay home as much as possible,’ saying the current COVID policy won’t stop a wave of Omicron infections, but rather focus on preventing a spike in serious cases and keeping the economy open. However, he did not rule out another national lockdown. According to new quarantines guidelines that will go into effect on 12/29, vaccinated individuals exposed to a confirmed coronavirus carrier must isolate until they obtain a negative result from a PCR test. Experts say the government is sending confusing signals to the public, as stark warnings aren’t accompanied by new restrictions.
Israel currently has 85 serious COVID cases, with 46 among them in critical condition, according to the Health Ministry. Of these, 38 are on ventilators. Just 6% of people with severe illness are vaccinated. 

December 29 Israel
A week has elapsed since the Israeli Health Ministry’s panel of experts recommended a second COVID-19 booster shot for populations at risk, but ministry officials are still deliberating over the issue. The ministry’s director general, Prof. Nachman Ash, has not ratified the recommendation, and plans to implement it are being delayed.

Israel confirmed 2,967 new coronavirus cases on 12/28, in a second day of relatively high figures as the highly infectious Omicron variant keeps spreading in the country. Meanwhile, more Israelis are getting vaccinated, and the number of serious cases remains largely stable even with a spike in overall COVID cases. The R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects, stands at 1.53, the highest figure since late June, according to data released by the Health Ministry.

In a policy shift, vaccinated and recovered Israelis need only a rapid test to avoid quarantine. In practice, the new regulation shortens COVID quarantine time for Israelis infected with the Omiciron variant from 14 days to 10. It was decided to end the 14-day quarantine for those exposed to an Omicron carrier because of the significant economic hit caused by quarantines, and because there has not been a spike in people hospitalized with the virus.

Israel logged 3,947 new coronavirus cases, the highest number since September, as recent data by the Health Ministry showed the country’s COVID infections are rising by most metrics. The number of new coronavirus cases has more than doubled in the past three days. On 12/26, Israel recorded 1,805 new infections.

December 30 Israel
The Israeli Health Ministry warned hospitals of a looming spike in the number of children in COVID wards as infections rise. Countries further along in the Omicron wave report more pediatric hospitalizations for COVID, and Israel’s hospitals have started to prepare.

The spiking rate of COVID infection propelled by the Omicron variant will cause Israel’s healthcare system to “collapse,” the head of the Israeli army’s coronavirus task force warned in an interview. “We will reach tens of thousands of infected people a day. People will not be able to be hospitalized,” said Brig. Gen. Reli Margalit, who leads the military unit tasked with cutting off COVID’s infection chain through contact tracing and epidemiological investigation.  “In another week, people will “run to get vaccinated” he told the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth, ahead of retiring from his position. “I hope it will not be too late.”

Israel became the first country to give the green light for a fourth COVID shot of the Pfizer vaccine for people with weakened immune systems, but a final decision on wider usage is still pending. Also, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said that a lockdown and economic shutdown are out of the question, and that action should be taken to allow foreign citizens to enter the country. He also criticized the Finance Ministry for withholding funds for the necessary extra beds and ECMO machines required to meet the fifth wave of the virus. “This is a demand that will save lives, so I will not compromise on it,” he said.

Israel logged 3,947 new coronavirus cases, the highest number since September, as recent data by the Health Ministry showed the country’s COVID infections are rising by most metrics. The number of new coronavirus cases has more than doubled in the past three days. On 12/26, Israel recorded 1,805 new infections.

December 31 Israel
Israel extended a fourth dose of COVID vaccine to the elderly in care homes, based on the high rate of infection in care homes, geriatric wards, and assisted living facilities. Israel recorded another dramatic jump of daily COVID cases, with 4,916 new positive tests, increasing from 4,067 on 12/30 and more than doubling since the start of the week. However, the number of seriously ill patients has remained steady, with 93 patients on 12/31 compared to 94 patients on 12/30.  

January 1 Occupied territories
For the last week of December, Reuters tracked COVID infections in the occupied Palestinian territories at 12% of peak and falling, with 43 infections per 100,000 population reported. There have been 470,303 infections and 4,931 coronavirus-related deaths reported in oPt since the pandemic began. Approximately 3,315,774 doses of coronavirus vaccine have been administered, which translates to 35.4% of the population (assuming two doses/person.

Per Ministry of Health:
PCR tests in the last 24 hours:744
New cases in the last 24 hours:57
Cumulative confirmed cases:190427
Seriously ill cases:52
Cases that need medical care:73
Ministry of Health

Detailed information from the Coronavirus/Covid 19 Surveillance System.
Ministry of Health

Minister of Health Mai Alkaila said today that 136 new cases of COVID-19, eight deaths and 314 recoveries were registered in Palestine during the last 24 hours. In her daily report on the coronavirus pandemic, Alkaila said six deaths from COVID-19 were registered in the West Bank, while another two deaths were recorded in Gaza.
A total of 2,745 COVID-19 tests were conducted during the reporting period. In the Gaza Strip, 57 coronavirus tests came out positive, while the West Bank had 79 new cases.
No update was available regarding the situation in occupied Jerusalem.
The Health Minister said that in the West Bank, 113 patients of COVID-19 are currently hospitalized, of whom 57 are in intensive care, including 16 on ventilators.
She pointed out that the recovery rate in Palestine has so far reached 98.2%, while active cases reached 0.8%. Deaths stood at only one percent of total infections.

Thanks to Trude Bennett