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Top immunologist: Douse Israel’s Delta ‘fire’ before it needs lake-full of water

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Israel can still rein in the Delta variant of the coronavirus, but if it doesn’t act decisively it will need “a lake-full of water instead of a bucket to put out the fire,” according to a leading immunologist.

“The numbers of infections are not going down, so we will eventually have a few hundred people in critical care if we don’t stop the spread,” Professor Cyrille Cohen of Bar Ilan University told The Times of Israel. “That’s the trajectory. But it can be stopped.”

He made his comments after Israel recorded 855 new cases of the coronavirus Thursday, and as the number of active cases reached 5,800, the highest figure since April. The number of Israelis seriously ill stood at 52.

Also on Thursday, Nachman Ash, the new director-general of the Health Ministry, warned that a lockdown may be on the cards for the High Holiday season in September. “I’m worried we might get there… in a few weeks,” Ash said.

Cohen said lockdown shouldn’t be needed and that Israel just needs to cut transmission rates (known as the R-value, the number of people each virus carrier infects on average), which can be done with the right efforts. “You don’t need a lockdown, you just need to get the R under 1 and it’s not too much effort,” he said.

Cohen, head of Bar Ilan University’s immunology lab and a member of the Health Ministry’s advisory committee on coronavirus vaccines, made the comments in a wide-ranging interview, discussing immunizations, booster shots and the concept of “living with the virus.”

He probed the complexity of Delta dynamics and suggested that despite his concerns, among those who catch the ultra-infectious strain and don’t experience bad symptoms, the infection may leave them stronger for an uncertain future.

While no one should catch COVID-19 on purpose, if vaccinated people are infected and fight Delta, it “can serve as something akin to a third dose, helping to protect against future variants that could be worse,” said Cohen.

He criticized Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s speech on Wednesday, in which he said that Israel could beat the Delta variant within five weeks but didn’t introduce significant new measures.

However, Cohen is hopeful about the “Revelry Pass,” announced Thursday, which will limit large gatherings to only those who are vaccinated, recovered or present a negative COVID test.

Times of Israel: Cases are rising, and there is some increase in serious cases. Are you concerned?

Prof. Cyrille Cohen: “I am concerned to some extent because we are seeing the numbers going up slowly but surely. Vaccines are working and slowing the pace — this should be emphasized — but vaccines alone are not able to stop the spread of the Delta variant.

“On a personal level vaccinated people are mostly protected, but the virus is spreading in society and we need to get back to an R value of 1 at a maximum, meaning that each person with the virus passes it to an average of just one other, or less [it is currently 1.31]. I think we have been wasting precious time and should have already taken measures like limiting gatherings indoors, implementing fast testing and making it easily accessible.

“The newly announced ‘revelry pass’ is a step in the right direction, but we need to enforce such regulations also in other places of gatherings such as prayer places and cinemas for example. Fighting Delta is like trying to put........

© The Times of Israel

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