1,751 new virus cases found in 24 hours as death toll climbs to 569

345 in serious condition with COVID-19; ministers roll back weekend restrictions, weigh reopening skies by mid-August

Israelis, wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus, shop at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on August 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israelis, wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus, shop at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on August 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Thursday recorded 1,751 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, and an additional four deaths since the previous evening.

The new fatalities bring the toll since the start of the pandemic to 569. Seventy people have died of the virus since last Thursday.

According to the ministry, 345 people are in serious condition, 100 of whom are on ventilators. Another 145 are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms. The ministry said 25,457 tests were conducted on Wednesday, 6.9 percent of which have come back positive.

The government decided on Wednesday to cancel weekend closures on shopping centers, stores and markets that had been implemented to stymie the spread of the coronavirus, after establishing that the regulations weren’t driving down COVID-19 infection rates.

An Israeli wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus shopping at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on August 04, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The so-called coronavirus cabinet announced the move, which will take effect this weekend, after an hours-long meeting that also saw ministers agree to work to resume air travel in 11 days, and lift restrictions on recreational activities in public parks.

But the official tasked with handling the virus response warned the country could yet see a nationwide lockdown in two weeks’ time if infection rates — currently holding at around 2,000 daily — don’t drop.

“No country in the world with a high rate of infection like Israel’s is handling the crisis without a lockdown. The Israeli government is sensitive to the delicate socioeconomic situation and public hardships and gave me trust in a way that does not include a full closure,” coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu said, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“This is likely the last opportunity for moderation. If morbidity does not decrease within two weeks, we will be forced to consider restrictions including the possibility of local or national lockdowns,” Gamzu said.

Ronni Gamzu attends a Finance Committee meeting in the Knesset, April 23, 2014. (Flash90)

In addition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the government will begin implementing a color-coded coronavirus system under which cities and towns will have coronavirus policies adapted to their local rates of infection, by September 1.

Gamzu has set September 1 as a target date for a “significant” decrease in daily cases, the statement said.

The government body will also advance an outline for reopening Israel’s skies to air traffic in the next two weeks with a goal of allowing flights to resume on August 16. The announcement signals that border entry requirements will be relaxed for non-Israelis, who have been barred from the country for months.

Flights to and from Israel have been severely curtailed since the start of the outbreak earlier this year. The most recent round of restrictions on commerce was put in place three weeks ago.

An IDF soldier tests a coronavirus sample in a military lab in an undated photograph, released on August 4, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The coronavirus cabinet also decided to step up government involvement in combating the virus in “red” areas that are experiencing high rates of infection.

Following pressure from Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper, ministers also agreed to allow cultural events in outdoor areas in cities with low rates of infection, flagged as “green.”

Restrictions on playgrounds will also be lifted.

The new measures will be approved by the Knesset on Thursday, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

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