Nearly 1,000 infections confirmed over Shabbat amid scramble to halt outbreak

Nearly 1,000 infections confirmed over Shabbat amid scramble to halt outbreak

4 more COVID-19 deaths also reported; renewed controversial tracking program said to send thousands into quarantine; ministers expected to approve tighter restrictions on Sunday

Police officers patrol outside the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem to enforce emergency COVID-19 regulations, on July 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police officers patrol outside the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem to enforce emergency COVID-19 regulations, on July 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Authorities on Saturday were reportedly readying measures to rein in a resurgent coronavirus outbreak in Israel, as the number of new infections surged over the last week.

According to the latest Health Ministry figures on Saturday evening, there were 977 new coronavirus cases since Friday evening, bringing the total number of infections in Israel since the start of the pandemic to 29,032.

A later update just before midnight Saturday night added another 138 infections, bringing the total to 29,170.

The ministry also announced four new deaths from COVID-19 over Saturday, raising the toll to 330.

Of the 11,024 active cases, there were 84 people in serious condition, including 32 on ventilators. Another 74 people were in moderate condition and the rest had mild symptoms or were asymptomatic.

There were 20,912 tests performed Friday, according to the Health Ministry. Preliminary data showed over 15,100 tests performed Saturday, though the figure will likely rise once the ministry sends out a fresh update on Sunday.

The ministry normally releases updated caseload numbers three times a day, but suspends reporting over Shabbat. The 977 figure was arrived at by subtracting the number of cases reported at 6:30 p.m. Friday from the number reported at 8:45 p.m. Saturday.

Amid the rising caseload, thousands of Israelis received messages instructing them to enter quarantine after the Knesset renewed the use of controversial surveillance measures to track coronavirus carriers and those with whom they were in contact, Channel 12 news reported.

Many Israelis who received the messages called the Health Ministry to appeal, but have been unable to get through due to the large number of callers, the report said. Anyone who did not receive official permission to be exempt from quarantine must begin to self-isolate.

On Wednesday, the Knesset passed legislation authorizing the Shin Bet security service to employ advanced surveillance measures to track those sick with the virus.

The tracking had been authorized by the government early on in the pandemic, but it lapsed after the government declined to immediately advance legislation regulating the program.

In an effort to contain further spreading of the virus, the cabinet was expected to approve new restrictions on gatherings when it convenes Sunday.

Channel 12 said the new measures were expected to include limitations on the number people at event halls, restaurants and bars, with attendance at all of them likely to be limited to 50 people.

A group of people wearing face masks tour Jerusalem on July 3, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Also Saturday, reports said police were drafting plans to increase their enforcement of social distancing guidelines meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The plan calls for the establishment of special headquarters in each police district, which will be staffed by officers tasked with preventing prohibited gatherings and enforcing mandatory mask-wearing and restrictions on businesses.

The report said the plan, which interim police commissioner Motti Cohen is expected to present to Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, envisions 400 officers operating out of each headquarters.

A police source said the plan is not final and could include further measures aimed at blocking the spread of the virus.

The Kan public broadcaster noted the formulation of the plan comes amid continued delays in authorizing municipal inspectors to enforce the rules.

The reports came as police said they handed out 3,097 fines over the past day to Israelis who allegedly violated the restrictions.

Police have recently been ordered by the government to step up enforcement amid the surge in new infections.

Police officers guard at the entrance to a neighborhood in the city of Lod, during a closure on some neighborhood in the city following the spread of the Coronavirus, on July 3, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

As the police geared up to increase enforcement of the virus measures, Border Police commander Yaakov “Kobi” Shabtai was confirmed to have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Earlier, the military said Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan, head of IDF Central Command, would enter quarantine after taking part in an event on Tuesday at which a confirmed coronavirus carrier was present.

The IDF said another unnamed senior officer in Central Command, which is responsible for an area that includes the West Bank, will also enter quarantine after attending the same event.

According to the IDF, there are currently 203 service members infected with the virus.

Additionally, the Association of University Heads in Israel announced Saturday that beginning on Sunday, no final exams will be held on campuses, in accordance with a government order meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The group said it submitted a proposal to the Council for Higher Education to allow some tests to be held on campus, but that Higher Education Minister Ze’ev Elkin was preventing the council from convening.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Israel was again in the midst of a “major outbreak” after the number of active coronavirus cases passed 10,000 for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

“We’re now dealing with a major outbreak of coronavirus in Israel,” Netanyahu wrote on Facebook. “At the start of the week we were with a figure of 450 infected and today we’re at nearly 1,000 infected a day.”

He said new restrictions that took effect Friday morning were necessary to contain the outbreak and called on Israelis to adhere to social-distancing guidelines, among them mandatory mask-wearing in public places.

“I know that wearing a mask irritates all of us in the Israeli heat of July, but there’s no choice,” the premier said.

After the number of daily cases dropped to low double-digits in May following weeks of a nationwide lockdown, new infections surged in June in the wake of the reopening of the economy and schools, leading the government to bring back restrictions.

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