Israel’s coronavirus tsar warns against easing rules and fears fifth wave


A leading Israeli health official has cautioned his country against any further easing of coronavirus rules and said he fears a potential fifth wave of Covid-19 could hit the nation.

Prof Salman Zarka said there were lessons to be learnt from lifting rules too soon. Israel reported 734 new cases on Saturday, in a country of 9.4 million – down from 11,000 per day during a surge last month.

“We are optimistic and we see the downward trend is continuing but the fourth wave is still here,” he told Kan public radio on Sunday.

“We also have a lesson to learn, to remind everyone we exited too quickly from the third wave.

We thought we beat the coronavirus and then the delta variant came in the fourth wave. We need to do it slowly, carefully, keeping in mind a potential fifth wave, God forbid

Prof Salman Zarka

“We thought we beat the coronavirus and then the delta variant came in the fourth wave.

“We need to do it slowly, carefully, keeping in mind [a potential] fifth wave, God forbid.”

Israel has battled surges in daily cases throughout much of the summer, despite having one of the world’s highest vaccination rates.

The government dropped most coronavirus rules, including the mandatory wearing of masks, in April – as the Delta variant hit the region – then was forced to reintroduce masks in June.

The Times of Israel reported that the Cabinet is expected to ease remaining restrictions in the coming days, including abolishing rules limiting large outdoor gatherings to between 1,000 and 5,000 participants, and limits on event halls of 400 people in closed spaces and 500 in open spaces, once the average daily new case rate drops to fewer than 1,000.

Prof Zarka, as the Israeli government’s chief Covid-19 officer, co-ordinates national efforts to tackle the pandemic and advises ministers on the most appropriate response.

He previously said he expected that by late 2021 or early 2022, Israel would be giving shots specially adapted to cope better with variants. He last month gave a warning of how under strain hospitals were.

“The story of this outbreak is the story of those who choose to not be vaccinated,” Prof Zarka said.

The drop to less than 1,000 cases per day is a significant improvement on August and September. In the first week of September, Israel had about 1,100 people in hospital in almost 700 considered “seriously ill”.

Israel has administered at least 15,700,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines so far, and nearly 40 per cent of its population have had a booster shot, Reuters reported this month.

Updated: October 17th 2021, 10:02 AM

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