The Health Ministry on Wednesday evening recorded an increase of 980 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, again breaking the record for new daily infections since the start of the pandemic, as ministers were reportedly poised to introduce lockdown measures in highly infected areas.
There have now been 26,021 cases since the initial outbreak, 8,271 of them active, according to ministry figures released in an evening update.
The ministry said the number of patients in serious condition was up to 58, two more than the previous update from the morning and six more than Tuesday evening, while the number of people on ventilators went up by one, to 25.
One more person has died of the virus, raising the death toll to 321. No details were immediately released on the fatality.
From midnight until Wednesday evening, 13,283 virus tests were carried out with 4.8% returning positive. A week ago, just 2.7% of the tests came back positive. Before lockdown measures were lifted several weeks ago, the figure was lower than 1%.
The previous 24-hour period, spanning from Tuesday morning till Wednesday morning, saw 859 cases diagnosed, at the time the highest daily number.
As the Health Ministry numbers were released, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an emergency phone meeting of key ministers from the so-called coronavirus cabinet, a ministerial forum charged with overseeing the campaign against the virus outbreak, the Kan public broadcaster reported.
The ministers were to discuss applying new restrictions to virus hotspot areas, among them the cities of Bnei Barak, Ashdod, Dimona and Lod. According to the report, measures taken are likely to include further reducing the number of people who can attend mass gatherings such as weddings and cultural events.
Hebrew media reports said ministers could confirm new lockdown measures in hotspots by later on Wednesday night.
Officials in the Health Ministry are said to be pushing for imposing strict lockdowns in dozens of cities in a dramatic push to contain the outbreak, which Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has warned is the “beginning of a second wave.”
On Tuesday, cabinet ministers imposed new restrictions on public gatherings in a bid to stem the rising infection rate. The main restrictions, approved late Monday by the “coronavirus cabinet,” apply to event halls and public gathering places, which have seen a steady return of business as long-delayed weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and cultural events have once again been held.
Virus rages in ultra-Orthodox areas
A report from the Corona National Campaign Information and Knowledge Center published Wednesday showed that the rate of infections in the ultra-Orthodox community is twice that of the rest of the population, Hebrew media reported.
According to the report, there were 673 cases discovered in the past week in the ultra-Orthodox community, including Bnei Brak (273), ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Ashdod (237), Beit Shemesh Haredi neighborhoods (54), and the towns of Beitar Illit (51), Modiin Ilit (31) and Elad (27).
It came as the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak cordoned off one of its streets after dozens of students at a yeshiva located on Yisrael Misalant Street were diagnosed with the virus.
Dozens more students at Yeshivat Beit Matityahu are waiting to learn the results of their virus tests, Hebrew media reported. Varying reports put the number of students already confirmed to have the virus at between 47 and nearly 60.
Yeshiva administrators are hoping to move all of the students to one of the government-run coronavirus quarantine hotels, reports said.
Only residents of the street will be allowed in and out, the municipality said in a statement. A municipal source told the Walla website the closure will remain in effect until all of the students are removed from the building.
Parents of some of the students told Walla that yeshiva head Baruch Weissbeker had recently instructed some students who showed symptoms of the COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, to not get tested.
The allegation comes amid reports of a small trend in the ultra-Orthodox communities of people fearing to get themselves tested, even when they suspect they have the virus, because of the potential fallout and containment measures.
Deputy Health Minister Meir Porush of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party appeared to confirm the reports, telling the Kol Berama radio station that some people are remaining at home rather than getting tested because “afterwards it brings a lockdown.”
In the first wave of the virus outbreak, the ultra-Orthodox community was hard hit amid what was seen by many as a lax attitude towards lockdown orders that saw the entire population told to stay at home, only venturing out for necessities. Bnei Brak saw the highest infection rate in the country, leading to the entire city being sealed off.