Why is Israel so Worried About Omicron?

Even with experts agreeing that the new variant’s mortality rate is low, Israel is preparing for the worst

By Israel Today Staff | | Topics: Omicron, Coronavirus
Israelis could soon be asked to get a fourth COVID-19 vaccine shot to fend off Omicron.
Israelis could soon be asked to get a fourth COVID-19 vaccine shot to fend off Omicron. Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

Medical experts in Israel concur with their colleagues abroad that the potential mortality rate of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 is lower than that of its predecessor, Delta. Even so, the Jewish state (at least the government) is in near-panic mode as to how to handle rising infection rates.

Despite its best efforts, including re-closing the borders, confirmed Omicron infections in Israel have tripled in recent days. The new variant is said to be the most contagious yet.

Last week Israel recorded over 1,000 new daily infections for five consecutive days. At the same time, just 90 people are hospitalized with severe Corona-related illness, and no one has died after being infected with the Omicron variant.

But the potential death rate isn’t what has Israel worried. At least not deaths directly related to Omicron.

“Even if we find that [Omicron] is less than half as severe [as Delta], we are still likely to see a large overflow in hospitals,” warned Eran Segal, a computational biologist from the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Segal is one of the top advisors to Israel’s coronavirus cabinet, and has become the most recognizable medical figure in the media amidst the ongoing pandemic.

In his most recent interview with Channel 12 News, Segal further cautioned that the highly-infectious Omicron variant could result in upwards of 20,000 new daily infections. Even if the vast majority are mild, local hospitals will be overwhelmed with those cases that are more severe.

In such a scenario, Israel’s healthcare system would buckle and be unable to effectively treat those suffering from other conditions, illnesses and injuries.


Pfizer pills to the rescue?

As part of its effort to stave off an anticipated rush on hospitals Israel has ordered 100,000 antiviral COVID-19 pills produced by Pfizer, the same pharmaceutical giant that manufactures the coronavirus vaccine shots being given to Israelis.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly spoke directly with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla over the weekend to finalize the order and arrange the first shipment of pills in the coming days.

The pills will be provided for free to Israelis in high-risk groups, and can be taken at home.

Known as Paxlovid, the treatment has been highly touted by American medical officials. Top doctors have said that the new Pfizer pill can decrease the risk of hospitalization and death in high-risk groups by up to 90%, while being oral and carrying low risk of side effects.

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