3.7% of COVID tests return positive Sunday, the lowest level since December

2,331 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in 24 hours; nearly 5 million people have had first vaccine dose

Customers sit at a cafe  in Jerusalem after it was reopened following the easing of coronavirus restrictions on March 7, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Customers sit at a cafe in Jerusalem after it was reopened following the easing of coronavirus restrictions on March 7, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The positive test rate for the novel coronavirus continued to tumble Sunday, dipping to 3.7 percent while the number of new daily cases also dropped to 2,331, according to Health Ministry figures.

The last time the positive test rate was as low was in mid-December. In January, amid a third wave of infections, it hit 10%.

Just a month ago, the daily caseload of new infections was over 7,000. While virus testing is usually slower at the weekends, the last time there were fewer cases on a Sunday was on December 13, with 1,729 cases diagnosed.

So far 4,960,396 people have received the first dose of the two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination, and 3,789,118 already have had the second, ministry figures published Monday showed.

An attendee shows off a “green pass” (proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 coronavirus disease) upon arrival at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv on March 5, 2021, before attending a “green pass concert” for the vaccinated, organized by the Tel Aviv municipality. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The day before, over 102,000 people received shots, of whom 30,908 were getting their first dose and 72,223 the second.

Since the start of the virus outbreak, 803,260 people in Israel have been infected with the coronavirus and there are currently 37,698 active patients in the country. There are 708 people in serious condition.

Sunday saw 14 more people die of COVID-19 — the lowest number of deaths in a single day since December 22. With four more deaths Monday morning the toll stood at 5,899 since the start of the pandemic.

In addition, Health Ministry data showed that the virus reproduction number dipped under 1 to 0.99. The calculation of the figure, which shows how many people each virus patient infects, represents the situation 10 days earlier than the day it is published. On Friday, it was given as 1.01 indicating that the virus outbreak was increasing. A value below one shows that it is shrinking.

On Sunday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said that while the coronavirus may be an issue for years to come, the worst has passed.

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man receives his second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a coronavirus vaccination center set up at a synagogue in Bnei Brak, Israel, March. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

“I think that if we all act correctly, we certainly can say that due to vaccinations we will continue to live under the shadow of the coronavirus for years to come,” Edelstein told Channel 12 News. “We haven’t won by a knockout, but we will certainly be able to say that crises of the kind we’ve experienced are behind us.”

The promising figures come as Israel embarked on the next exit phase from its third nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

Much of the economy reopened Sunday as a national lockdown was further rolled back, including restaurants, cafes, school grades 7-10 in low- to medium-infection areas, event venues, attractions and hotels. Higher education institutions and religious seminaries were opened to vaccinated or recovered people and rules on gatherings and worship were relaxed.

The cabinet also decided to ease restrictions on international travel and sidelined a highly controversial committee that was deciding who could enter the country while the airport remained largely shuttered.

There will no longer be an approval process for returning Israelis. In the coming days, 1,000 people a day will be able to enter the country from four locations — New York, Frankfurt, London and Paris — with the number set to go up to 3,000 later this week. Foreign nationals will be permitted to enter the country in exceptional cases, but require permission from a government-run panel.

New coronavirus deaths and infections in Israel have continued to decline from highs in January, and the number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients has dropped to its lowest point since last year.

Despite the overall decline in severity of Israel’s third-wave outbreak, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said Friday that Israel may yet be forced to enter a fourth lockdown to combat the spread of the virus as the infection rate inched back up last week.

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