1,433 people died of virus in deadliest month to date

30% of Israeli COVID-19 deaths were in January alone — Health Ministry data

Schools open in Bnei Brak, Jerusalem despite increased fines; Finance Minister Katz calls for commerce to restart as soon as lockdown ends

A burial services employee carries the body of Romania-born Holocaust survivor Golda Schwartz, who died at the age of 93 of complications of COVID-19 in Nof Hagalil Cemetery on January 28, 2021 (Gili Yaari / Flash90)
A burial services employee carries the body of Romania-born Holocaust survivor Golda Schwartz, who died at the age of 93 of complications of COVID-19 in Nof Hagalil Cemetery on January 28, 2021 (Gili Yaari / Flash90)

Health Ministry data released on Monday revealed that around a third of total reported COVID-19 deaths in Israel were in January alone, making it the deadliest month by far since the start of the pandemic.

The death toll toll stood at 4,796, with preliminary figures showing 1,433 of those fatalities in January — just under 30 percent. The figure is expected to be updated and rise later in the day.

Infection rates remained high with 5,140 new cases confirmed on Sunday, and the test positivity rate stood at 9.7%.

Total cases reached 646,277, including 68,331 active cases. Of them, 1,140 patients are in serious condition, including 390 in critical condition and 315 on ventilators.

Hospital team members work in the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on January 27, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The ministry said 3,081,162 Israelis have received the first vaccine dose, and 1,790,121 got both shots.

According to data released by a military task force on Monday, Israel’s transmission rate has started to rise again after falling for a number of weeks. The basic reproduction number, or R, which is the number of new cases stemming from each coronavirus infection, or the number of people who caught the virus from each infected person, stood at 0.96, having fallen to 0.9 a week earlier.

However, striking a positive note, the report said there was a reduction in the number of new cases and serious patients over the age of 60, a fall it said could be attributed to the widespread vaccination campaign, which kicked off with that age group.

The figures were released after the cabinet voted to extend the nationwide lockdown, which has closed nonessential businesses and most schools for the past month, until Friday morning at 7 a.m.

Ben Gurion International Airport will stay shut until Sunday, with the cabinet deciding to reimpose from Tuesday a mandatory quarantine in state-run hotels on those allowed to enter the country.

Ministers are set to meet on Wednesday to decide whether to extend the lockdown, Israel’s third since the start of the pandemic, even longer. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been pushing for at least a week’s extension and Defense Minister Benny Gantz insisted it end no later than Thursday.

The Sunday night cabinet discussions came after two funerals attended by thousands of ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem in violation of lockdown restrictions sparked fresh outrage among politicians, the public, and business owners, who have seen their livelihoods decimated by the lockdowns.

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews attend a funeral procession for the head of the Brisk Yeshiva, Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik in Jerusalem on January 31, 2021, following his passing aged 99, due to months-long illness compounded by the coronavirus. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Finance Minister Israel Katz on Monday called for all commerce to be opened as soon as the lockdown ends, pushing back against the claim by Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch a day earlier that the lockdown had saved 2,000 lives.

“I do not think that is true,” Katz told the Kan public broadcaster. “All businesses and trade should be opened immediately at the end of the lockdown. These places are not a source of infection but a place of livelihood. The fact is that when they were closed, the morbidity still went up.”

Finance Minister Israel Katz holds a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on July 1, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

The tightened lockdown entered its fourth week on Sunday, but has not brought down infections significantly. New cases, and deaths, piled up at a worrying pace, despite Israel’s successful vaccination campaign.

Also Sunday, the Knesset passed a bill stepping up enforcement of the lockdown by doubling fines for violators. Gantz and his Blue and White party had demanded the measure pass before holding the meeting on the lockdown extension, putting them at odds with Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies in the ruling coalition.

The Walla news site reported that despite the increase in fines, Haredi educational institutions opened their gates on Monday morning in a number of locations, including in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak and parts of Jerusalem.

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