4 new deaths reported as virus cases swell past 1,100 to new daily high
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4 new deaths reported as virus cases swell past 1,100 to new daily high

Number of total confirmed infections rises to 31,886 as government stumbles in effort to contain renewed outbreak

Police and shoppers at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on July 7, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Police and shoppers at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on July 7, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Tuesday evening released new figures showing 1,137 coronavirus infections confirmed in the past day, in the largest 24-hour tally since the start of Israel’s outbreak.

The new cases brought the number of total confirmed cases to 31,886. The Health Ministry also announced four new deaths, bringing the toll to 342, an increase of eight since Monday evening.

The number of serious cases was down from 88 to 86, while the number of people on ventilators dropped to 35, one fewer than on Monday.

Another 87 people were in moderate condition, with the rest suffering mild or no symptoms.

The last few weeks have seen the reversal of many of the gains made in the fight against the coronavirus in recent months. New daily virus cases, which had dropped to low double digits through most of May, have soared to over a thousand a day, and the number of active cases has reached an all-time high of more than 12,300.

A drill at Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa, to transform the underground car park into an emergency center for large numbers of coronavirus patients (courtesy of Rambam Health Care Campus)

The current increase in weekly infections in Israel is one of the highest in the world, according to a chart published Monday afternoon by the Health Ministry.

Criticizing the authorities’ handling of the ongoing outbreak and describing a chaotic and ineffective approach to tackling the crisis, the director of public health in the Health Ministry announced her resignation earlier Tuesday.

In a lengthy post on her Facebook page, Prof. Siegal Sadetzki warned that “Israel is heading to a dangerous place.”

Prof. Siegal Sadetzki, Health Ministry director of public health, speaks during a press conference at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, on May 31, 2020. (Flash90)

“To my regret, for a number of weeks now, the handling of the outbreak has lost direction,” she wrote. “Despite systematic and regular warnings in the various systems, and discussions in various forums, we watch with frustration as the hourglass of opportunities runs low. Against this backdrop, I have come to the conclusion that in the newly created conditions under which my professional opinion is not accepted — I can no longer help to effectively cope with the spread of the virus.”

The government on Monday passed a raft of restrictions to contain the renewed outbreak, including limiting restaurants and synagogues, reducing the number of passengers on public transportation, hiking fines for not wearing face masks and shutting down event halls, cultural venues, swimming pools, gyms, bars, and nightclubs.

Israel is “a step away from a full lockdown,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told cabinet members during a special meeting. While falling short of shutting down the country like earlier this year, the new measures are a significant step back from May’s reopening of the economy.

In an attempt to streamline Israel’s response to the new outbreak, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein agreed on Tuesday afternoon to up cooperation on the coronavirus crisis between their ministries.

“There is a need for real cooperation,” Edelstein said during a visit to Home Front command headquarters.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L), Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (C) and Maj. Gen. Uri Gordon (R), head of the the IDF’s Home Front Command, tour HFC headquarters on July 7, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Gantz had mounted a public push for his ministry to take over more operational aspects of dealing with the pandemic, amid widespread criticism of the Health Ministry’s handling of the crisis.

The push has angered Netanyahu, who reportedly stormed out of a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet last week after Gantz made his wishes public. The premier accused him of trying to play politics.

The army has already announced that it will assign soldiers to aid an overburdened quarantine hotline run by the Health Ministry, and has begun to reopen hotels to house people in isolation.

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