JERUSALEM – Israel on Tuesday cut the isolation time for asymptomatic COVID-19 cases from 10 days to seven, hoping to keep schools and the economy open as Omicron infections sweep the country.
People infected with the coronavirus and not suffering symptoms for three days can be out of isolation after seven days, the Health Ministry said in a statement. Those showing symptoms were required to continue to isolate for 10 days.
The decision came after a ministry study of 80 COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant of the virus. Lab tests showed that the likelihood of virus growth after seven days of illness was 6%, the Health Ministry said.
“The study conducted by Health Ministry experts shows that the chance that an Omicron patient will be contagious after this period of time is very low. We will not impose isolation beyond what is required, in order to maintain health, keep the economy, education system and culture going and to maintain routine life alongside the coronavirus,” Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said.
Trying to head off nationwide paralysis, the government has been scaling back coronavirus curbs even as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has warned that as many as 2 million to 4 million Israelis – out a total population of 9.4 million – could be infected during the Omicron wave.
Having scrapped a sweeping travel curb once Omicron became widespread within Israel, the government has tried to reduce queuing at testing stations by letting most vaccinated people self-report infections by using home antigen test kits.
That could shore up the workforce, 10% of which was absent last week, according to Army Radio, which projected a no-show rise to 30% next week. Reducing isolation time would free employees to go back to work sooner.
Israel has reported around 1.5 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic and more than 8,000 deaths. Infections soared to record highs over the past week, but hospitalisations, although climbing, remain relatively low compared with previous coronavirus waves.