Israel’s COVID-19 R-number drops below one, indicating infections may be slowing

Israeli health-care workers administer coronavirus tests at a drive-through facility in Lod on Jan. 18, 2021. Photo by Yossi Aloni/Flash90.

(JNS)Israel’s COVID-19 transmission rate—also known as the reproduction or R-number—has fallen below one for the first time since October, Israeli media reported on Thursday.

The reports cited Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate as saying that the reproduction rate now stands at 0.99. An R-number under one means that statistically, each infected individual is passing on the virus to less than one other person.

Israel is currently in the midst of its third nation-wide lockdown due to the pandemic. Officials have previously said that lockdown restrictions can be eased when the transmission rate reaches 0.8.

The lockdown, which began on Dec. 27 and was scheduled to end on Thursday, was extended for an additional 10 days on Tuesday following a Cabinet vote.

Israeli Health Ministry officials have confirmed the presence in the country of both the so-called U.K. and South African variants of the virus and have indicated that Israel’s robust vaccination campaign is a race against time.

As of Thursday morning, 2,365,041 people had received the first dose of Pfizer’s BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, representing 26.61 percent of the population, and 694,669 people had received the second dose, representing 7.82 percent, according to Health Ministry data.

The Cabinet also voted on Tuesday to tighten travel restrictions. As of Jan. 23, anyone entering Israel will have to present airline personnel in the country of origin with confirmation of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours ahead of takeoff—or Health Ministry documentation of the travelers having recovered from COVID-19 or having been vaccinated.