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Living with COVID-19: Israel Changes Strategy as Delta Variant Hits

Maayan Lubell wrote . . . . . . . . .

Four weeks ago, Israel was celebrating a return to normal life in its battle with COVID-19.

After a rapid vaccination drive that had driven down coronavirus infections and deaths, Israelis had stopped wearing face masks and abandoned all social-distancing rules.

Then came the more infectious Delta variant, and a surge in cases that has forced Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to reimpose some COVID-19 restrictions and rethink strategy.

Under what he calls a policy of “soft suppression”, the government wants Israelis to learn to live with the virus – involving the fewest possible restrictions and avoiding a fourth national lockdown that could do further harm to the economy.

As most Israelis in risk groups have now been vaccinated against COVID-19, Bennett is counting on fewer people than before falling seriously ill when infections rise.

“Implementing the strategy will entail taking certain risks but in the overall consideration, including economic factors, this is the necessary balance,” Bennett said last week.

The main indicator guiding the move is the number of severe COVID-19 cases in hospital, currently around 45. Implementation will entail monitoring infections, encouraging vaccinations, rapid testing and information campaigns about face masks.

The strategy has drawn comparisons with the British government’s plans to reopen England’s economy from lockdown, though Israel is in the process of reinstating some curbs while London is lifting restrictions.

The curbs that have been reinstated include the mandatory wearing of face masks indoors and quarantine for all people arriving in Israel.

Bennett’s strategy, like that of the British government, has been questioned by some scientists.

Israel’s Health Ministry advocates more of a push for stemming infections, Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health at Israel’s Health Ministry, told Kan Radio on Sunday.

“It’s possible that there won’t be a big rise in the severely ill but the price of making such a mistake is what’s worrying us,” she said.

But many other scientists are supportive.

“I am very much in favour of Israel’s approach,” said Nadav Davidovitch, director of the school of public health at Israel’s Ben Gurion University, describing it as a “golden path” between Britain’s easing of restrictions and countries such as Australia that take a tougher line.

THE VIRUS ‘WON’T STOP’

Israel’s last lockdown was enforced in December, about a week after the start of what has been one of the world’s fastest vaccination programmes.

New daily COVID-19 infections are running at about 945 (last 7 days average on July 19, 2021). The Delta variant, first identified in India, now makes up about 90% of cases.

“We estimate that we won’t reach high waves of severe cases like in previous waves,” the health ministry’s director-general, Nachman Ash, said last week. “But if we see that the number and increase rate of severe cases are endangering the (health) system, then we will have to take further steps.”

Around 60% of Israel’s 9.3 million population have received at least one shot of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine. On Sunday, the government began offering a third shot to people with a compromised immune system.

Ran Balicer, chair of the government’s expert panel on COVID-19, said Israel had on average had about five severe cases of the virus and one death per day in the last week, after two weeks of zero deaths related to COVID-19.

Noting the impact of the Delta variant, he said the panel was advising caution over the removal of restrictions.

“We do not have enough data from our local outbreak to be able to predict with accuracy what would happen if we let go,” Balicer said.

Some studies have shown that though high, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine’s effectiveness against the Delta variant is lower than against other coronavirus strains.

Drawing criticism from some scientists, Pfizer and BioNTech SE have said they will ask U.S. and European regulators to authorise booster shots to head off increased risk of infection six months after inoculation. read more

Israel is in no rush to approve public booster shots, saying there is no unequivocal data yet showing they are necessary. It is offering approval only to people with weak immune systems on a case-by-case basis.

Authorities are also considering allowing children under 12 to take the vaccine on a case-by-case basis if they suffer from health conditions that put them at high risk of serious complications if they were to catch the virus.

Only “a few hundred” of the 5.5 million people who have been vaccinated in Israel have later been infected with COVID-19, Ash said.

Before the Delta variant arrived, Israel had estimated 75% of the population would need to be vaccinated to reach “herd immunity” – the level at which enough of a population are immunized to be able to effectively stop a disease spreading. The estimated threshold is now 80%.

Such data ensure doctors remain concerned.

“…the virus won’t stop. It is evolving, it’s its nature. But our nature is to survive,” said Dr Gadi Segal, head of the coronavirus ward at Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv.

Source: Reuters

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Average Soda Fountain Serving in the U.S. Exceeds Daily Recommended Added Sugars

You’ll get more than a day’s worth of added sugars when you pour a soda fountain drink at most U.S. restaurant chains, a new report finds.

Even small-sized drinks exceed recommended guidelines, said researchers at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

For the study, CSPI researchers examined levels of added sugar in full-calorie soda fountain drinks at the top 20 restaurant chains by revenue.

The investigators found that small drinks averaged 65 grams of added sugar — more than the recommended daily limit of 50 grams (12 teaspoons) of added sugar, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Medium or regular drinks averaged 75 grams — that’s 1½ times the recommended limit. Large drinks, averaging 109 grams, had more than two days’ worth of added sugar.

The report suggests that state and local governments in the United States should require menus to include warning icons on items with high levels of added sugar.

“People are returning to restaurants and dining out more,” said Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs for the CSPI.

“Sugar warnings would allow all of us to make more informed decisions about our own health by providing information on menus about the added sugars that are often hidden in restaurant foods and beverages,” she said in a center news release.

The researchers also found that even drinks sold as part of meal combinations usually had more than the recommended daily limit of added sugar. And half of kids’ drinks had more than 40 grams of added sugar.

Making it harder for consumers to manage their sugar intake, sugar content in the same size soda could vary threefold from restaurant chain to chain, according to the report.

Citing a New York City idea as a model, the researchers said a proposal there would require icons on menu items that exceed the 50-gram recommended daily limit for added sugar.

A new survey accompanying the report showed that three-quarters of New York State residents support having these warnings on menus.

The findings were released online by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Source: HealthDay

Braised Sweetbread with Saffron

Ingredients

1 veal sweetbread (pancreas, or “heart”)
1 lemon
all-purpose flour, for dusting unsalted butter
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 shallots, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced or diced
1 glass of sweet white wine
6 tbsp chicken stock
generous pinch saffron strands
6 tbsp heavy cream
salt
black pepper

Pasta

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 free-range eggs
3 free-range egg yolks
1/2 tbsp olive oil
salt

Method

  1. Make the pasta. Mix all the ingredients by hand or in a mixer to make the dough. Let rest until needed.
  2. Put the sweetbread in a pan of cold water, add salt and the juice of half a lemon, then simmer for about 7 minutes. Let cool.
  3. Drain the sweetbread and trim off all the sinew, then break it up into nuggets. Dust in a little flour and then panfry over medium-high heat in 1/2 tablespoon butter and the oil until golden.
  4. Remove the sweetbread nuggets and set them aside, then drain the excess fat from the pan.
  5. Place pan over medium heat and add a knob of fresh butter, then the shallots and carrots. Sweat for a few moments, then deglaze the pan with the wine, and boil to reduce.
  6. Add the chicken stock, saffron, and cream, then put the sweetbread nuggets back in the pan and simmer gently until fully cooked, basting and turning frequently. Check the seasoning, adding a squeeze of lemon if necessary.
  7. Roll out the pasta dough and cut it into ribbons. Cook in plenty of boiling water, then drain and toss in a little butter.
  8. Serve the sweetbread in deep bowls with the pasta and plenty of the rich creamy sauce.

Makes 2 servings.

Source: The French Kitchen


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