The country must prepare for a possible fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Professor Salman Zarka, a representative of the Israeli authorities responsible for fighting the pandemic, in an interview with the Times of Israel. He added that “declarations to win the war against the virus were premature.”
In view of the worsening epidemic data during the fourth wave of the pandemic in Israel, the representative of the Israeli authorities, Prof. Salman Zarka admitted that the country adopted an inadequate strategy against the coronavirus because it did not use the period of a significant decline in the number of infections to encourage the unvaccinated to take the vaccine. He also mentioned other “bugs” and stated that the Delta variant “surprised” Israel.
Coronavirus in Israel. Zarek against lockdown
– I think we made some mistakes when we thought we won the war. Now we realize that it was just a battle and the war is still going on. We still need to explain and convince people to vaccinate, he stressed.
Despite thousands of new infections every day, Zarka has spoken out firmly against the lockdown and in favor of celebrating with families and in synagogues the upcoming Rosh Hashanah festival, which this year falls on September 6-8.
While rallies will lead to new infections, he said, it is part of the coexistence with the coronavirus that will likely require long periods of booster vaccinations, wearing face masks, and trying to avoid crowds. – COVID-19 is with us and will stay with us. We may have to wear masks for months or even years, he said, admitting that “this virus has changed the world.”
Vaccination campaign in Israel
Israel has earned a reputation as a vaccine leader as it entered the vaccination campaign early and was extensive. However, when the country returned to normal operation in early spring and there were suggestions that it might have already achieved herd immunity, efforts to encourage the rest of the population to vaccinate weakened. Vaccination of adolescents began in June, but it was not accompanied by a visible campaign.
Currently, in this country of over 9 million people, one million people are entitled to it are unvaccinated, including 140,000. from the most vulnerable group over 50 years of age. In addition, Israel has shut down some antivirus programs, including the highly effective Magen Awot nursing home protection program.
“Two months ago, when we celebrated the victory over the virus and returned to normal life, we closed some programs and thought we had already won the war,” said Zarka, who was appointed on July 14. – We stopped explaining and trying to convince (unvaccinated) to vaccinate. And then when the Delta and the fourth wave started, we’re on it again, ‘he added.
Zarka admits: Delta surprised us
Zarka noted, however, that by making mistakes in the fight against the pandemic, Israel, like other countries, did not have enough data. – This is a new virus and we learn every day what will happen next. Based on our knowledge of virology, we thought COVID-19 would behave like the flu or other viruses, but unfortunately Delta surprised us and hit us quickly, he said.
According to the specialist, expectations for the future must be restrained, because the vision of returning to normalcy and the life known from before the pandemic in a predictable time is unrealistic. Instead, Israelis must realize that the country will respond to a changing pandemic with varying degrees of openness and closure.
Zarka is currently overseeing the booster dose action believed to be the most intense in the world. Almost 1.5 million people in Israel have already received the additional dose, and early studies show that it actually increases the level of antibodies.
A booster dose in Israel is now available to people over the age of 40, and in the case of healthcare professionals and some other industries, younger people. The third dose was given to 2/3 of Israelis over 90, 71 percent. aged 80-89 and 76 percent at the age of 70-79.
According to Zarki, booster doses will now become part of life. We have to take into account pandemic waves with new variants of the coronavirus, such as the new one from South America. It seems that due to the weakening of the (effectiveness) of the vaccine and the (level of) antibodies, we will need a new injection every few months – maybe once a year, maybe every 5-6 months, ‘he said.
Vaccines for new variants
Zarka said he believes Israel will already be administering formulations that are more effective against the new variants late this year or early next.
– When people with a third dose get sick less often, the increase in new cases will slow down. It has to happen to Rosh Hashanah. Therefore, the matter is urgent and we strive for vaccinations in all situations and everywhere. We believe that if people get vaccinated before Rosh Hashanah, we will have fewer cases of serious illness. So I think that despite the fact that new infections will appear, there will not be enough of them to run out of places in the hospital – he said.
He expressed the belief that a lockdown on the holiday would be an “easy fix” but that it would be to the disadvantage of residents. According to him, during this time it will be possible to expect permission to gather up to 50 people in a closed room and up to 100 outside, as well as to leave synagogues open.
– I am not aiming for zero cases, I am aiming for such a level that the country will be able to continue to function with open markets, schools and the provision of necessary medical services – he reserved.
Main photo source: ABIR SULTAN / PAP / EPA