Medical treatment

COVID Czar: Non-essential medical treatments may have to be halted in Omicron wave

The government’s coronavirus czar, Salman Zarka, said on Thursday that as COVID infection rates soar and more medical staff are infected, non-essential treatments may need to be temporarily frozen.

During a live online briefing, Zarka said the number of absent health workers, along with the growing number of COVID, flu and other patients, has put immense pressure on the health system.

The growing infection “poses immense challenges for us in terms of preserving essential services”, Zarka said, and health officials are therefore considering “minimising non-essential treatment”.

Zarka said such decisions will likely be made on a hospital-by-hospital basis, depending on the availability of medical personnel and hospital beds.

As of Thursday morning, there were 5,657 medical staff nationwide in quarantine due to infection or exposure, according to the Health Ministry, including 767 doctors and more than 1,500 nurses.

As of Wednesday, 86% of hospital beds nationwide across all wards were occupied, a slight increase from the same time last year, and nearly 82% of beds in internal medicine wards across the country were occupied, compared to 74% during the same period. Last year.

Some hospitals have already exceeded their limits, with Hadassah Ein Kerem in Jerusalem showing a total occupancy rate of over 100% and an occupancy rate of 110% in internal medicine.

Coronavirus czar Salman Zarka attends a coronavirus press conference in Jerusalem on August 29, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Urging the public to get vaccinated or receive booster doses, as well as wear masks and stay home if they feel unwell, Zarka said the Omicron COVID wave is expected to peak in the coming weeks.

He also said that in the future, at COVID testing stations across the country, special lines will be set up for elderly and high-risk people, and their testing will be prioritized in labs.

Currently, there are nearly 260,000 active COVID cases in the country, including 879 hospitalized and 283 in serious condition. Current rates of severe cases are still a far cry from the peaks seen at the height of the Delta wave last year, when up to 1,200 people were seriously ill with the virus at one time.

But Zarka warned that those rates could continue to rise, especially among the elderly and at high risk.

“We’re starting to see it, we’re starting to see more people in hospital, some with Omicron, some with Delta,” Zarka said. “I’m afraid the wave, in terms of severe cases, is only starting now, and we’ll see [a rise in] those who are seriously ill [patients] and those on ventilators.

Zarka dismissed claims that the country operates under a de facto policy encouraging mass infection in order to forge some sort of herd immunity among the Israeli public.

“We don’t have a policy like that, and it’s dangerous,” Zarka said. “Nobody knows what will happen to people infected with Omicron in a few months. We worry about long COVID, we worry about PIMS [Pediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome]…and no one can promise that people infected with Omicron won’t be infected in future waves.

He said the government was currently acting on the advice that limiting gatherings “won’t necessarily change the spread of contagion”.

However, he said, he could not rule out the possibility of a lockdown being instituted in the future.

“I can’t promise there won’t be a lockdown,” Zarka said. “There is increased pressure on the healthcare system…if we have no choice, we will have to consider it.”

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