By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) – Israel says it plans to become the first nation to introduce a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as the new Omicron variant already overwhelms hospitals in several countries.
The announcement came while the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that a surge of Omicron cases will push European health systems towards the brink.
Israel seeks to prevent this scenario after confirming the first known death of a patient with the Omicron strain on Tuesday.
The health ministry said there were at least 340 known cases of the variant in Israel.
The decision to roll out the fourth jab pending approval by senior health officials was welcomed by Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. “This is wonderful news that will assist us in getting through the Omicron wave that is engulfing the world,” Bennett said in published remarks.
Israeli authorities plan to make the fourth shot available for those who had at least four months earlier a third “booster” vaccination.
Israel became known as the country with one of the fastest COVID-19 jab programs, but only 63 percent of its population of 9.3 million has had two doses, according to official estimates.
Experts say this is partly due to Israel having a relatively young country – with about a third of its population under 14.
Israel’s plans were closely monitored in Europe, which has more elderly people, after the WHO’s top official for the continent Hans Kluge said: “another storm” of infections was coming.
He urged European governments to brace for significant increases in cases ahead of Christmas.
His warning came as several countries re-imposed social distancing restrictions after the Netherlands introduced Europe’s toughest lockdown till at least January 14.
Germany announced new post-Christmas rules, including closing nightclubs and limiting parties to 10 people from December 28. Football matches from that date will also be played behind closed doors.
Portugal said Tuesday that nightclubs and bars would have to close and made working from home obligatory from December 26 until January 9. Outdoor gatherings would be limited to 10 people.
In Sweden, bars, cafes, and restaurants will only be able to serve seated guests from Wednesday, and all employees have been asked to work from home.
Health Minister Lena Hallengren said she expected Omicron cases to rise and warned that “the burden on the health care system is increasing.”
Authorities in Europe say there is little reason for Christmas cheer as European Union countries saw more than 89 million cases and 1.5 million COVID-related deaths.
Most victims were older adults with underlying health conditions.
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