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896 virus cases recorded Monday; active infections remain below 30,000

National death toll rises to 2,260; Health Ministry reports daily positive test rate of 3.5%, same as Sunday

A United Hatzalah paramedic wears protective clothing as he a home in Jerusalem after testing someone with symptoms of COVID-19, October 19, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A United Hatzalah paramedic wears protective clothing as he a home in Jerusalem after testing someone with symptoms of COVID-19, October 19, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Monday evening said 896 new coronavirus cases were recorded during the day, raising the number of infections since the pandemic began to 304,635.

The number of active cases stood at 29,597, after dropping below 30,000 in the morning for the first time since September 8. Among those infected, there were 632 in serious condition, with 246 on ventilators. Another 180 were in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms.

The death roll rose to 2,260, up 51 from the morning.

The Health Ministry said 25,688 tests were performed so far on Monday and 3.5 percent came back positive, the same as Sunday’s rate.

Tel Aviv municipal inspectors patrol the coastal city’s Carmel Market to check that shop owners are adhering to the coronavirus rules, October 19, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The new figures indicated the number of new virus cases was continuing to taper off, as Israel emerged from a monthlong nationwide lockdown that has managed to curb runaway infection rates, but has shuttered much of the economy and paralyzed many aspects of life for much of the population.

A report by a military coronavirus task force published Monday morning said that while the outbreak was being contained, infection rates were still high in absolute numbers.

Despite the drop in new cases, the official leading Israel’s fight against the pandemic urged the government to not rush the opening of schools, warning that students could bring the virus home with them and infect the much more vulnerable elderly population.

“The infection rate among young kids is very high. A dam could not hold it back,” Ronni Gamzu told the Knesset’s Labor and Welfare Committee, adding that it was unrealistic to expect children to limit contact with older family members.

“We must wait with the opening of the education system — elementary and high schools,” he pleaded, “and do so carefully, because in the end those kids and teenagers have interactions with adults and the elderly.”

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu at a meeting of the Knesset’s Labor and Welfare Committee, in Jerusalem, October 19, 2020. (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset)

According to the staged plan presented by the Health Ministry, schools will gradually allow students to return depending on the meeting of epidemiological benchmarks. Preschools and kindergartens opened on Sunday, and grades 1-4 are set to begin once Israel manages to keep below 1,000 infections a day.

While the plan predicts two weeks between stages, Israel has seen infection rates drop precipitously, leading to calls for a swifter reopening of schools, businesses and public activity after a month of restrictions that managed to slow the spread of the virus.

Children on the first day of school in Jerusalem, September 1, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

A similar scenario following the first lockdown caused health officials to abandon their staged plan and open nearly all schools at once in early May. The rushed opening has been blamed for playing a part in runaway infection rates that preceded the second lockdown, in place since mid-September.

Later Monday, reports said Gamzu wants to ease lockdown restrictions in several ultra-Orthodox areas that were previously flagged as hotspots, as the coronavirus infection rates there improve.

The ultra-Orthodox have seen a disproportionately high number of virus cases. In early October, officials said 40% of all new coronavirus infections were among the ultra-Orthodox, though they constitute only approximately 12% of the population.

On Sunday, many ultra-Orthodox Torah-teaching institutions, including in Israel’s worst-affected contagion areas, took in students, following instructions from a leading rabbi, despite regulations forbidding them from opening.

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