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Tag Archives: Israel

Charts: Israel Cuts US Dollar Holdings, Adds Chinese Yuan To Its $206 Billion Reserves

2% yuen, 3.5% each of Canadian and Australian Dollars, 5% British Pound, 20% Euro and 61% US Dollars in 2022

Source : Bloomberg and IMF

Vaccine Passport Pioneer Israel to Curb Use of ‘Green Pass’

Israel, one of the first nations to implement a vaccine pass, is to curtail its use in most places, authorities said Wednesday, despite tens of thousands of daily coronavirus infections.

The government’s coronavirus task force decided only “high-risk” events such as parties will require a “green pass” that certifies a person has been vaccinated or recovered from the virus, according to an announcement released by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government.

The new rules are to take effect Sunday, pending approval from a parliamentary committee.

Facilities that have typically demanded proof of vaccination — including restaurants, bars, gyms and hotels — will likely drop the requirement if the measures are passed.

The government will soon publish a complete list of places were the pass is still needed, a task force spokesperson confirmed to AFP.

The change comes as cases of Covid-19 continue to remain at all-time highs, with more than 60,000 new cases recorded on Tuesday and 2,618 Covid patients in hospital.

Epidemiologist Nadav Davidovitch, who sits on an expert panel advising the government on Covid, said the changes in the green pass made sense because vaccinated people were still being re-infected.

“To continue the green pass in the same way can create false assurances,” he said.

“It’s not reducing infections in closed spaces like theatres. It needs to be used mainly for high-risk places like hospitals, elderly care homes, or events when you are eating and singing and dancing.”

Still, he said it would be “a mistake” to do away with the green pass altogether as Israel did in June 2021, only to reinstate it when cases surged again.

The new rules would also shorten the validity of the green pass to four months for people who received two vaccine shots. Those who received a third or fourth booster would see their green pass last indefinitely.

The task force further recommended that even unvaccinated people would be able to board a flight from Israel without a coronavirus test, provided their destination country did not require one.

Bennett has vowed to avoid the strict closures Israelis endured earlier in the pandemic, before the vaccine rollout was complete.

Coronavirus cases are also surging in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority announced it would close schools for 10 days from Thursday due to the virus.


Source : France 24

Charts: Israel Confirmed COVID-19 Cases between July 4 and July 31 Involved Many Fully Vaccinated

Israeli Virus Czar Calls to Begin Readying for Eventual 4th Vaccine Dose

Israel’s national coronavirus czar on Saturday called for the country to begin making preparations to eventually administer fourth doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

“Given that that the virus is here and will continue to be here, we also need to prepare for a fourth injection,” Salman Zarka told Kan public radio.

He did not specify when fourth vaccine shots could eventually be administered.

Zarka also said that the next booster shot may be modified to better protect against new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, such as the highly infectious Delta strain.

“This is our life from now on, in waves,” he said.

Zarka made similar comments in an interview with The Times of Israel last month.

“It seems that if we learn the lessons from the fourth wave, we must consider the [possibility of subsequent] waves with the new variants, such as the new one from South America,” he said at the time.

“And thinking about this and the waning of the vaccines and the antibodies, it seems every few months — it could be once a year or five or six months — we’ll need another shot.”

Zarka said that he expects that by late 2021 or early 2022, Israel will be giving shots that are especially adapted to cope better with variants.

Israel — the first country to officially offer a third dose — began its COVID booster campaign on August 1, rolling it out to all those over the age of 60. It then gradually dropped the eligibility age, expanding it last week to everyone age 12 and up who received the second shot at least five months ago.

As of Friday, over 2.5 million Israelis had received the third dose.

The Health Ministry last week also announced that the “Green Pass” system — a document that allows entry into certain gatherings and public places for those who are vaccinated or have recovered from the coronavirus — will expire six months after the holder received their second or third dose, hinting that a fourth dose may be administered in six-months time.

On Friday, the Health Ministry reported 11,269 new coronavirus infections the day before. Thursday’s figure was slightly below the daily record of 11,274 infections confirmed on Wednesday.

Despite surging infections, serious cases have begun falling since peaking at 753 on Sunday, with the Health Ministry reporting that 654 people were in serious condition from COVID-19 complications as of Friday afternoon.

The positive test rate on Thursday was 8.43 percent, the highest it has been during the current wave of morbidity.

The death toll stood at 7,129.


Source : The Times of Israel

A Grim Warning from Israel: Vaccination Blunts, But Does Not Defeat Delta

Meredith Wadman wrote . . . . . . . . .

“Now is a critical time,” Israeli Minister of Health Nitzan Horowitz said as the 56-year-old got a COVID-19 booster shot on 13 August, the day his country became the first nation to offer a third dose of vaccine to people as young as age 50. “We’re in a race against the pandemic.”

His message was meant for his fellow Israelis, but it is a warning to the world. Israel has among the world’s highest levels of vaccination for COVID-19, with 78% of those 12 and older fully vaccinated, the vast majority with the Pfizer vaccine. Yet the country is now logging one of the world’s highest infection rates, with nearly 650 new cases daily per million people. More than half are in fully vaccinated people, underscoring the extraordinary transmissibility of the Delta variant and stoking concerns that the benefits of vaccination ebb over time.

The sheer number of vaccinated Israelis means some breakthrough infections were inevitable, and the unvaccinated are still far more likely to end up in the hospital or die. But Israel’s experience is forcing the booster issue onto the radar for other nations, suggesting as it does that even the best vaccinated countries will face a Delta surge.

“This is a very clear warning sign for the rest of world,” says Ran Balicer, chief innovation officer at Clalit Health Services (CHS), Israel’s largest health maintenance organization (HMO). “If it can happen here, it can probably happen everywhere.”

Israel is being closely watched now because it was one of the first countries out of the gate with vaccinations in December 2020 and quickly achieved a degree of population coverage that was the envy of other nations— for a time. The nation of 9.3 million also has a robust public health infrastructure and a population wholly enrolled in HMOs that track them closely, allowing it to produce high-quality, real-world data on how well vaccines are working.

“I watch [Israeli data] very, very closely because it is some of the absolutely best data coming out anywhere in the world,” says David O’Connor, a viral sequencing expert at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “Israel is the model,” agrees Eric Topol, a physician-scientist at Scripps Research. “It’s pure mRNA [messenger RNA] vaccines. It’s out there early. It’s got a very high level population [uptake]. It’s a working experimental lab for us to learn from.”

Israel’s HMOs, led by CHS and Maccabi Healthcare Services (MHS), track demographics, comorbidities, and a trove of coronavirus metrics on infections, illnesses, and deaths. “We have rich individual-level data that allows us to provide real-world evidence in near–real time,” Balicer says. (The United Kingdom also compiles a wealth of data. But its vaccination campaign ramped up later than Israel’s, making its current situation less reflective of what the future may portend; and it has used three different vaccines, making its data harder to parse.)

Now, the effects of waning immunity may be beginning to show in Israelis vaccinated in early winter; a preprint published last month by physician Tal Patalon and colleagues at KSM, the research arm of MHS, found that protection from COVID-19 infection during June and July dropped in proportion to the length of time since an individual was vaccinated. People vaccinated in January had a 2.26 times greater risk for a breakthrough infection than those vaccinated in April. (Potential confounders include the fact that the very oldest Israelis, with the weakest immune systems, were vaccinated first.)

At the same time, cases in the country, which were scarcely registering at the start of summer, have been doubling every week to 10 days since then, with the Delta variant responsible for most of them. They have now soared to their highest level since mid-February, with hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions beginning to follow. How much of the current surge is due to waning immunity versus the power of the Delta variant to spread like wildfire is uncertain.

What is clear is that “breakthrough” cases are not the rare events the term implies. As of 15 August, 514 Israelis were hospitalized with severe or critical COVID-19, a 31% increase from just 4 days earlier. Of the 514, 59% were fully vaccinated. Of the vaccinated, 87% were 60 or older. “There are so many breakthrough infections that they dominate and most of the hospitalized patients are actually vaccinated,” says Uri Shalit, a bioinformatician at the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion) who has consulted on COVID-19 for the government. “One of the big stories from Israel [is]: ‘Vaccines work, but not well enough.’”

“The most frightening thing to the government and the Ministry of Health is the burden on hospitals,” says Dror Mevorach, who cares for COVID-19 patients at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem and advises the government. At his hospital, he is lining up anesthesiologists and surgeons to spell his medical staff in case they become overwhelmed by a wave like January’s, when COVID-19 patients filled 200 beds. “The staff is exhausted,” he says, and he has restarted a weekly support group for them “to avoid some kind of PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] effect.”

To try to tame the surge, Israel has turned to booster shots, starting on 30 July with people 60 and older and, last Friday, expanding to people 50 and older. As of Monday, nearly 1 million Israelis had received a third dose, according to the Ministry of Health. Global health leaders including Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, have pleaded with developed countries not to administer boosters given that most of the world’s population hasn’t received even a single dose. The wealthy nations pondering or already administering booster vaccines so far mostly reserve them for special populations such as the immune compromised and health care workers.

Still, studies suggest boosters might have broader value. Researchers have shown that boosting induces a prompt surge in antibodies, which are needed in the nose and throat as a crucial first line of defense against infection. The Israeli government’s decision to start boosting those 50 and older was driven by preliminary Ministry of Health data indicating people over age 60 who have received a third dose were half as likely as their twice-vaccinated peers to be hospitalized in recent days, Mevorach says. CHS also reported that out of a sample of more than 4500 patients who received boosters, 88% said any side effects from the third shot were no worse, and sometimes milder, than from the second.

Yet boosters are unlikely to tame a Delta surge on their own, says Dvir Aran, a biomedical data scientist at Technion. In Israel, the current surge is so steep that “even if you get two-thirds of those 60-plus [boosted], it’s just gonna give us another week, maybe 2 weeks until our hospitals are flooded.” He says it’s also critical to vaccinate those who still haven’t received their first or second doses, and to return to the masking and social distancing Israel thought it had left behind—but has begun to reinstate.

Aran’s message for the United States and other wealthier nations considering boosters is stark: “Do not think that the boosters are the solution.”


Source : Science


Read also at The Times of Israel

Israel’s active COVID cases pass 50,000, just 2 months after they hovered at 200 . . . . .

90% of COVID-19 Patients Treated with New Israeli Drug Discharged in 5 days

Some 93% of 90 coronavirus serious patients treated in several Greek hospitals with a new drug developed by a team at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center as part of the Phase II trial of the treatment were discharged in five days or fewer.

The Phase II trial confirmed the results of Phase I, which was conducted in Israel last winter and saw 29 out of 30 patients in moderate to serious condition recover within days.

“The main goal of this study was to verify that the drug is safe,” Prof. Nadir Arber said. “To this day we have not registered any significant side effect in any patient from both groups.”

The trial was conducted in Athens because Israel did not have enough relevant patients. The principal investigator was Greece’s coronavirus commissioner, Prof. Sotiris Tsiodras.

Arber and his team, including Dr. Shiran Shapira, developed the drug based on a molecule that the professor has been studying for 25 years called CD24, which is naturally present in the body.

“It is important to remember that 19 out of 20 COVID-19 patients do not need any therapy,” Arber said. “After a window of five to 12 days, some 5% of the patients start to deteriorate.”

The main cause of the clinical deterioration is an over activation of the immune system, also known as a cytokine storm. In case of COVID-19 patients, the system starts attacking healthy cells in the lungs.

“This is exactly the problem that our drug targets,” he said.

CD24 is a small protein that is anchored to the membrane of the cells and it serves many functions including regulating the mechanism responsible for the cytokine storm.

Arber stressed that their treatment, EXO-CD24, does not affect the immune system as a whole, but only targets this specific mechanism, helping find again its correct balance.

“This is precision medicine,” he said. “We are very happy that we have found a tool to tackle the physiology of the disease.”

“Steroids for example shut down the entire immune system,” he further explained. “We are balancing the part responsible for the cytokine storms using the endogenous mechanism of the body, meaning tools offered by the body itself.”
Arber noted that another breakthrough element of this treatment is its delivery.

“We are employing exosomes, very small vesicles derived from the membrane of the cells which are responsible for the exchange of information between them,” he said.

“By managing to deliver them exactly where they are needed, we avoid many side effects,” he added.

The team is now ready to launch the last phase of the study.

“As promising as the findings of the first phases of a treatment can be, no one can be sure of anything until results are compared to the ones of patients who receive a placebo,” he said.

Some 155 coronavirus patients will take part in the study. Two-thirds of them will be administered the drug, and one-third a placebo.

The study will be conducted in Israel and it might be also carried out in other places if the number of patients in the country will not suffice.

“We hope to complete it by the end of the year,” Arber said.

If the results are confirmed, he vowed that the treatment can be made available relatively quickly and at a low cost.
“In addition, a success could pave the wave to treat many other diseases,” he concluded.


Source : The Jerusalem Post


Read also at The Times of Israel

New Israeli drug cured 29 of 30 moderate/serious COVID cases in days — hospital . . . . .

14 Israelis Have Caught COVID-19 Despite Receiving Booster Shot

Internal Health Ministry data shows that 14 Israelis have been infected with COVID-19 a week after receiving a booster shot, Channel 12 news reports.

The network says 11 of those infected are over the age of 60 — two of whom have now been hospitalized — while the other three got their third dose because they are immunocompromised.

If confirmed in larger samples, the figures could cast doubt on the effectiveness of the booster shot, which Israel has started administering before major health bodies around the world have approved it.


Source : The Times of Israel

Israelis Age 60 and Up to Start Getting Third Coronavirus Vaccine Dose Next Week

Stuart Winer wrote . . . . . . . . .

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash on Thursday told health management organizations to start giving a third COVID-19 vaccine shot to elderly Israelis from the beginning of next week.

Ash told the HMOs the shots should be given to those aged 60 and older.

His order came hours after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with top health officials to review an expert panel’s recommendations that older Israelis receive a third shot.

Israel is among the first in the world to offer a third dose of a coronavirus vaccine — Hungary has also said it would begin rolling out booster shots beginning Sunday, joining Turkey, which adopted the measure earlier this month. The American Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve third doses.

Israel’s decision came amid a struggle to contain a recent wave of coronavirus infections that has seen case numbers rocket from just dozens a day a month ago, to a daily caseload of over 2,000 this week.

With serious cases also on the rise, health officials had been weighing a booster shot for the elderly in order to minimize illness.

“These recommendations, by the committee of experts, are substantial,” Bennett said after meeting with Ash and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“Our strategy is clear: to safeguard life, and to safeguard daily routines in the State of Israel,” Bennett said in the statement, hours after the reintroduction of the Green Pass system granting access to large events only to those who are vaccinated, recovered or able to present a recent negative virus test.

The prime minister also repeated his calls for all those eligible for vaccinations to go out and get the shots.

The vote by the expert panel on Wednesday to recommend a third dose was not unanimous, according to Hebrew media, but a majority was in favor against the backdrop of the rising number of seriously ill patients in recent weeks.

Health Ministry figures on Thursday showed there were 2,165 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed the day before, the third day in a row that the number was above 2,000, a daily caseload not seen since March.

There were 159 patients in serious condition, an increase of eight since midnight.

A military task force advising the government on coronavirus policy warned Thursday that at the current rate, the number of serious cases will multiply in the coming weeks and could overwhelm hospitals.

In its daily report, the task force said that the number of seriously ill patients “clearly and effectively demonstrates the outbreak of the disease in the country.”

The current transmission rates show that the number of infected people will double every 7-10 days, it said.

“Without additional action and broad vaccination by the public, the number of confirmed cases and the number of seriously ill patients is expected to increase in a manner that is likely to lead, within weeks, to strain on community clinics and hospitals,” the report said.

So far the national vaccination drive, which is open to all those age 12 and up, has inoculated about 55 percent of the population. According to the task force, there are a million eligible Israelis who have not yet received the shots. Of them, 234,000 are aged over 50.

The surge in virus cases has been attributed to travelers returning from abroad who were infected with new strains of COVID-19, notably the Delta variant, but did not properly quarantine after arriving in the country.

At a meeting of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Thursday, lawmakers were told that the current policy of banning Israelis from visiting countries with high infection rates is only partially successful at preventing further spread of the virus.

Health Ministry director of public health Sharon Alroy-Preis told the committee that “using tweezers to choose which country is a danger is no longer the correct method.”

Alroy-Preis said that although the system, which saw the government build a list of “red countries” that Israelis were prohibited from visiting, did help reduce morbidity, the current situation demands a change as infection rates are rising all over the world “at a worrying rate.”

She said 150-200 infected people were entering the country every day and that despite mandatory virus testing at the airport, some only find out they have COVID-19 days later when they have already been in contact with others.

Alroy-Preis said the Health Ministry is considering other systems to address the problem, to “find a model that will allow travel and living alongside the coronavirus but will reduce morbidity.”


Source : The Times of Israel

Israeli Research Claims Pfizer Shot Now Only 41% Effective Against Delta Strain

Nathan Jeffay wrote . . . . . . . . .

New data from Israel and the United Kingdom painted a confusing and contradictory picture on Thursday as to the effectiveness of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in fighting off the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

New Health Ministry statistics indicated that, on average, the Pfizer shot — the vaccine given to nearly all Israelis — is now just 39% effective against infection, while being only 41% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID. Previously, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was well over 90% effective against infection.

Meanwhile, a new UK study published this week in The New England Journal of Medicine found the same vaccine to be 88% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID — more than twice the rate found in the Israeli data.

Israel’s research agreed, at least, that the shot was highly effective in avoiding serious illness, at 91.4% effectiveness.

Some analysts have warned that the figures on vaccine effectiveness are prone to major inaccuracies because of a range of factors, including questions over whether there is accurate data on infection levels among the non-vaccinated, which is vital for such stats.

The Israeli statistics also appeared to paint a picture of protection that gets weaker as months pass after vaccination, due to fading immunity. People vaccinated in January were said to have just 16% protection against infection now, while in those vaccinated in April, effectiveness was at 75%.

Doctors note that such figures may not only reflect time that has passed since vaccination, but also a bias according to which those who vaccinated early were often people with health conditions and who are more prone to infection, such as the elderly.

Reacting to the Israeli figures on Thursday, epidemiologist Nadav Davidovitch, a Ben-Gurion University professor and leader of Israel’s doctors’ union, told The Times of Israel, “What we see is that the vaccine is less effective in preventing transmission, but it’s easy to overlook that it’s still very effective in preventing hospitalization and severe cases.”

Davidovitch added: “It’s still excellent, very good in preventing severe cases and death, but less so in preventing transmission. And this is why we can’t rely on vaccinations alone, but also need Green Passes, testing, masks, and the like.”

Davidovitch stressed that all figures should be treated as preliminary and with limited relevance given the relatively small numbers of positive patients at the moment. “It’s quite early to comment, as the number of positive people is still quite low,” he said.

He spoke after ministers approved reinstating the Green Pass, limiting attendance at large events to those who are vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19, or who present a valid negative test result.

The renewed restrictions will apply to both indoor and outdoor events with over 100 participants, starting on July 29. The requirement to present proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test from the past 72 hours will only apply to people older than 12. Under that age, there will be no restrictions.

The decision was approved by the so-called coronavirus cabinet, a high-level ministerial forum tasked with leading the government’s pandemic response. It must still be ratified by the government, and is set to be voted on Sunday during the weekly cabinet meeting.


Source : The Times of Israel

Living with COVID-19: Israel Changes Strategy as Delta Variant Hits

Maayan Lubell wrote . . . . . . . . .

Five weeks ago, Israel was celebrating a return to normal life in its battle with COVID-19.

After a rapid vaccination drive that had driven down coronavirus infections and deaths, Israelis had stopped wearing face masks and abandoned all social-distancing rules.

Then came the more infectious Delta variant, and a surge in cases that has forced Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to reimpose some COVID-19 restrictions and rethink strategy.

Under what he calls a policy of “soft suppression”, the government wants Israelis to learn to live with the virus – involving the fewest possible restrictions and avoiding a fourth national lockdown that could do further harm to the economy.

As most Israelis in risk groups have now been vaccinated against COVID-19, Bennett is counting on fewer people than before falling seriously ill when infections rise.

“Implementing the strategy will entail taking certain risks but in the overall consideration, including economic factors, this is the necessary balance,” Bennett said last week.

The main indicator guiding the move is the number of severe COVID-19 cases in hospital, currently around 45. Implementation will entail monitoring infections, encouraging vaccinations, rapid testing and information campaigns about face masks.

The strategy has drawn comparisons with the British government’s plans to reopen England’s economy from lockdown, though Israel is in the process of reinstating some curbs while London is lifting restrictions.

The curbs that have been reinstated include the mandatory wearing of face masks indoors and quarantine for all people arriving in Israel.

Bennett’s strategy, like that of the British government, has been questioned by some scientists.

Israel’s Health Ministry advocates more of a push for stemming infections, Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health at Israel’s Health Ministry, told Kan Radio on Sunday.

“It’s possible that there won’t be a big rise in the severely ill but the price of making such a mistake is what’s worrying us,” she said.

But many other scientists are supportive.

“I am very much in favour of Israel’s approach,” said Nadav Davidovitch, director of the school of public health at Israel’s Ben Gurion University, describing it as a “golden path” between Britain’s easing of restrictions and countries such as Australia that take a tougher line.

THE VIRUS ‘WON’T STOP’

Israel’s last lockdown was enforced in December, about a week after the start of what has been one of the world’s fastest vaccination programmes.

New daily COVID-19 infections are running at about 945 (last 7 days average on July 19, 2021). The Delta variant, first identified in India, now makes up about 90% of cases.

“We estimate that we won’t reach high waves of severe cases like in previous waves,” the health ministry’s director-general, Nachman Ash, said last week. “But if we see that the number and increase rate of severe cases are endangering the (health) system, then we will have to take further steps.”

Around 60% of Israel’s 9.3 million population have received at least one shot of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine. On Sunday, the government began offering a third shot to people with a compromised immune system.

Ran Balicer, chair of the government’s expert panel on COVID-19, said Israel had on average had about five severe cases of the virus and one death per day in the last week, after two weeks of zero deaths related to COVID-19.

Noting the impact of the Delta variant, he said the panel was advising caution over the removal of restrictions.

“We do not have enough data from our local outbreak to be able to predict with accuracy what would happen if we let go,” Balicer said.

Some studies have shown that though high, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine’s effectiveness against the Delta variant is lower than against other coronavirus strains.

Drawing criticism from some scientists, Pfizer and BioNTech SE have said they will ask U.S. and European regulators to authorise booster shots to head off increased risk of infection six months after inoculation. read more

Israel is in no rush to approve public booster shots, saying there is no unequivocal data yet showing they are necessary. It is offering approval only to people with weak immune systems on a case-by-case basis.

Authorities are also considering allowing children under 12 to take the vaccine on a case-by-case basis if they suffer from health conditions that put them at high risk of serious complications if they were to catch the virus.

Only “a few hundred” of the 5.5 million people who have been vaccinated in Israel have later been infected with COVID-19, Ash said.

Before the Delta variant arrived, Israel had estimated 75% of the population would need to be vaccinated to reach “herd immunity” – the level at which enough of a population are immunized to be able to effectively stop a disease spreading. The estimated threshold is now 80%.

Such data ensure doctors remain concerned.

“…the virus won’t stop. It is evolving, it’s its nature. But our nature is to survive,” said Dr Gadi Segal, head of the coronavirus ward at Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv.


Source: Reuters