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COVID vaccines

Israel to offer fourth dose of COVID vaccine to counter omicron

Booster announced for people over 60 following nation's first death from variant

A nurse prepares a dose of the coronavirus vaccine in Jerusalem on Oct. 3.   © Reuters

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Israel announced on Tuesday that it will offer a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to people older than 60, amid concern about the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

A Health Ministry expert panel recommended the fourth shot, a decision that was swiftly welcomed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as "great news that will help us overcome the Omicron wave that is spreading around the world."

Although the decision is pending formal approval by senior health officials, Bennett urged Israelis to get the dose as soon as possible, saying: "My message is -- don't waste time, go get vaccinated."

The decision follows the first known death in Israel of a patient with the Omicron variant. An Israeli hospital on Tuesday confirmed the death but said he had suffered from a number of serious pre-existing conditions.

The Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba said the man, in his 60s, died on Monday, two weeks after he was admitted to the coronavirus ward.

A hospital statement said the patient suffered from a variety of serious illnesses. "His morbidity stemmed mainly from pre-existing sicknesses and not from respiratory infection arising from the coronavirus," it said.

On Tuesday, the Health Ministry said there were at least 340 known cases of Omicron in Israel.

Israel has already this week expanded a travel ban to countries including the United States, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Canada to try to curb the spread of the virus.

Bennett's office said it had also approved reducing office attendance by 50% for public sector employees to encourage more remote work.

And Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered the military's Homefront Command to prepare for the eventuality of 5,000 new cases per day, his office said.

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