8 new virus deaths confirmed in 24 hours as infections leap by 1,206
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8 new virus deaths confirmed in 24 hours as infections leap by 1,206

Lawmakers told 170 people have contracted COVID-19 at weddings, compared to 35 at gyms, and 21 in restaurants; vote on lifting some restrictions delayed

Jerusalem residents wearing face masks for fear of coronavirus  walk on Jaffa Road in the city center of Jerusalem on July 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Jerusalem residents wearing face masks for fear of coronavirus walk on Jaffa Road in the city center of Jerusalem on July 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Sunday evening confirmed Israel’s coronavirus death toll had risen to 362, announcing eight deaths in the past 24 hours as positive results from testing reached new highs.

According to the figures released by the ministry, 1,206 new virus cases have been confirmed in the past day, bringing Israel’s total to 38,670.

Earlier Sunday, the number of active cases again overtook the number of Israelis who have recovered from the virus, which stands at 18,915. Sunday evening’s numbers show the gap opening even wider with a total of 19,300 active cases.

Of those diagnosed with the virus, 151 are in serious condition — 10 more than Sunday morning — with 47 of them attached to ventilators. Another 108 are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild symptoms.

The ministry said that a total of 19,076 coronavirus tests were conducted Saturday, with a record six percent of them returning a positive result. It said 10,914 tests had so far been conducted on Sunday, with 5.9% showing a positive result.

Medical staff examine a mock coronavirus patient during an exercise simulating the treatment of coronavirus patients, at the coronavirus critical care unit, at the Ziv Medical Center in Tzfat on July 9, 2020.(David Cohen/ Flash90)

The new figures come as experts warn of the need for further lockdowns and as lawmakers debate the merit of the new regulations introduced by the government last week.

Amid the rising number of cases, a team of experts from the Hebrew University on Sunday morning presented the government with a grim prediction that a hundred more Israelis will die of the coronavirus by the end of July.

They therefore recommended the reimposition of strict restrictions starting from next week, including a nationwide lockdown, if the rate of new infections does not slow down by then.

Recent weeks have seen the reversal of many of the gains made in the fight against the coronavirus in recent months. The country had been placed on a nationwide lockdown for several weeks at the start of the outbreak in mid-March, but removed most of its restrictions by May to reopen the economy.

Police officers speak with ultra-Orthodox Jewish men at a checkpoint leading to Jerusalem’s Romema and Kiryat Belz neighborhoods, which are under lockdown due to high coronavirus infection rates, on July 12, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

To contain the surge in new cases, the government has reimposed many restrictions on gatherings and economic activity, and on Friday a number of lockdowns came into effect in neighborhoods in five towns and cities hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak. That measure came a day after cabinet ministers approved the closures as the number of new cases in Israel continued to rise, hitting over 1,000 a day.

But on Sunday, the Knesset’s coronavirus committee began deliberations on whether to lift some of the new restrictions, with lawmakers arguing that the Health Ministry had not provided sufficient evidence to justify shuttering swimming pools, gyms and bars.

Health Ministry representatives argued that those places are ripe for mass infections, but some MKS said the figures the ministry presented for confirmed infections in those facilities do not justify the sweeping closure.

According to date presented to the committee, 35 infections were confirmed in gyms between June 4 and July 10, 170 at weddings, 21 in restaurants and six in bars.

People walk next to empty chairs and tables at restaurants on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on July 7, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The officials, however, said that the origin of a significant portion of infections was not known.

With both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein reportedly pressuring the head of the coronavirus committee not to reopen swimming pools and gyms and with fierce disagreements between members of the committee, a vote on the matter was delayed until Monday morning.

In the meantime, all the businesses closed last week remain shuttered.

To prevent the possible need for further shutdowns, the Health Ministry has reportedly increased its use of phone tracking technology to trace those who have come into contact with confirmed virus carriers.

According to Channel 12 news, the ministry asked the Shin Bet security agency to trace phones of 6,321 people between July 1 and July 8, sending over 70,000 into quarantine. However, the report added that one-quarter of those who appealed the quarantine, saying the Shin Bet tracking was faulty, got out of it altogether.

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