Active coronavirus cases surge back over 9,000

Health Ministry says 832 new patients diagnosed Tuesday, with death toll at 2,822, ahead of reopening of high schools and middle schools

Students seen in a classroom at Orot Etzion School, in the settlement of Efrat, in the West Bank on November 24, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Students seen in a classroom at Orot Etzion School, in the settlement of Efrat, in the West Bank on November 24, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The number of active coronavirus cases in Israel has risen to 9,064, a level not seen in nearly three weeks, according to Health Ministry figures released Wednesday.

The milestone is the latest indication that the spread of the virus may be re-accelerating, even as the government pushes ahead with reopening the country after its second lockdown.

There were 832 new cases diagnosed on Tuesday — 1.4 percent of the 59,488 test results returned.

Of those sick with the virus, 268 are in serious condition, of whom 116 are considered critical, according to the ministry. There are 120 people on ventilators.

Among the remaining patients, 64 are in moderate condition, and the rest have light or no symptoms.

The death toll rose to 2,822.

Since the start of the outbreak 331,179 Israelis have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

The virus transmission rate rose above 1 in the last days of October for the first time since the second national lockdown began to be rolled back earlier that month, and continued to rise before slackening slightly in early November. Figures released Wednesday, which were based on new case numbers from 10 days earlier due to the virus’s incubation period, showed the figure at 1.06.

A transmission rate of over 1 indicates that case numbers will begin to expand exponentially.

The coronavirus cabinet, a forum of ministers dealing with the outbreak, had initially decided that the lockdown exit should only start if the transmission rate is under 0.8. Under the Health Ministry’s plan, rollback measures are supposed to be halted if the rate rises. The government has ignored that benchmark, however, pressing on with easing restrictions.

Around 300,000 children in grades 5-6 returned to the classroom on Tuesday morning and will attend school at least three days a week. To free up the educational resources required for the move, grades 1-2 returned to learning in full classes instead of pods of smaller groups of children.

Following a marathon debate, the coronavirus cabinet early Tuesday approved Education Minister Yoav Gallant’s plan to reopen most schools across the country, with high schoolers in areas designated green and yellow going back to school on Sunday.

Middle schools will reopen the following Sunday, December 6. Schools in red zones, those with high morbidity rates, will remain closed.

Israel imposed a lockdown on September 18 that succeeded in bringing down surging infection rates but that also paralyzed much of the economy and public life, as well as shuttering the entire education system. The government has since begun lifting the restrictions but health officials have sounded alarms as the drop in infection rates first slowed, and then reversed.

Officials, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, have warned that if the number of daily cases diagnosed is not brought back under control, a third lockdown could be looming.

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