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Delta surprised Israel, and we’d dropped ball on vaccination, admits COVID czar

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As Israel’s fourth coronavirus wave worsens, its top COVID official admits that the country mishandled the pandemic in failing to use the months when infections dropped dramatically to galvanize the unvaccinated to get the immunizations.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Times of Israel, coronavirus czar Prof. Salman Zarka also addressed other “mistakes” made recently, when leaders believed they had vanquished the virus — only to be “surprised” by the Delta variant.

Israel declared victory against COVID-19 two months ago, when the final restrictions were abolished, but Zarka said that it is clear now that “we only won the battle and the war is still here.” Preparations are needed for a possible fifth wave, he said.

Zarka argued passionately against lockdown, despite thousands of daily new COVID infections. He is determined that the nation will celebrate the upcoming Rosh Hashanah holiday with their families and in synagogues, insisting that while the gatherings will lead to infections, it is part of living with the virus.

This reality of living alongside the virus is likely to mean a long period of booster shots, masks, and efforts to avoid crowding, said Zarka.

“COVID-19 is here and will stay here, and we may have to take a mask for many months and maybe years,” he said. Later in the interview, he stressed: “The world was changed by this virus.”

Israel developed a reputation as the so-called vaccination nation, by inoculating early and widely. But as the country returned to normalcy in the spring, with suggestions that herd immunity had arrived, efforts to persuade the vaccine holdouts to roll up their sleeves eased off. And when teen vaccinations were launched in June, at first, the campaign was very gentle.

Now, a million eligible people out of a population just over 9 million are unvaccinated, including around 140,000 who are from the most at-risk age group: 50-plus. As well as easing off the vaccine push, Israel shut down some virus-fighting facilities, including the very successful Magen Avot program for protecting people in nursing homes.

“Two months ago, after we celebrated victory against the virus and got back to our regular life, we closed some facilities and believed we won the war,” said Zarka, who was appointed on July 14. “We stopped trying to explain and push [the unvaccinated] to have the vaccination. After we started Delta and the fourth wave of the disease, we returned to dealing with this.

“It seems that some mistakes........

© The Times of Israel

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