The so-called British variant, 50% more infectious and possibly more virulent than the original virus, is to blame for the inability so far of the vaccination campaign and the lockdown to curb the spread, Israeli health ministry officials said.

Although the vaccine is believed to work against the British variant, the mutation’s more contagious nature means higher infections and hence more hospitalizations. The health ministry’s main goal now is to bring down the numbers of the seriously ill who are overwhelming hospital wards and exhausting medical teams.

The rate of infections in Israel has declined to just over 9% from 10.2% earlier this month, and people seriously or critically ill has stabilized at about 1,100. But the number of patients on respirators has hit a record, Corona Commissioner Nachman Ash has said. More than 4,600 people in Israel have died from the virus, and more than 7,600 people are being diagnosed with it daily.