Israeli hospitals struggle to cope with Omicron cases

Israel - a global leader in vaccination - is struggling to look after COVID-19 patients, amid a surge in Omicron cases.

The government adopted "Living with COVID" as its mantra a few months before the highly infectious variant arrived.

And although Omicron is causing fewer severe infections and deaths, the skyrocketing caseload has meant that hospitals are filling up fast.

Dror Mevorach, the head of the coronavirus ward at Hadassah medical center, says the sheer magnitude of the surge is compounded by medical staff getting sick:

"We have generally on average 10-15% less doctors and nurses whereas we need 20-30% more because of the flood of patients. So this is very different because we had doctors that were sick before, but not in that amount that we see with the Omicron."

The staff shortage has also forced hospitals to cut back on other procedures and divert resources to COVID wards.

Several scientists urged the government to intervene to reduce infection rates in mid-January.

But the government, backed by other experts stuck to the softer-touch approach of managing the virus that it adopted last summer.

It has rolled back curbs while urging the public to self-test and stay at home if they are sick - mirroring moves in a number of western nations including Britain and France.

In January, it cut isolation times and cut quarantine for schoolchildren exposed to a carrier.

Noting the fact that 65% of Israel's 9.4 million population has been vaccinated with a recent booster jab or second dose.

Daily cases passed 80,000 in late January before easing back over the past few days.

Yoram Weiss is the hospital's acting Director-General:

"The staff are exhausted and this is another reason that we need to be aware of. It's not like we're starting the first outbreak, where everybody was full of energy. Today people are already tired. They have to wear these masks which are very difficult to be with for hours. They have to be protected, they have to take care of very sick patients and it is in very difficult conditions relatively because they have to be all the time with protective gear and for this reason, that's another reason, that we need to be very attentive to our workforce and to their needs in order to support them."