Active virus cases dip below 30,000 as new infections fall off sharply

Just 892 new cases confirmed Sunday with positivity rate of 3.5%, with morbidity at lowest rate since late June

Israelis wear protective face masks in Tel Aviv, on October 18, 2020. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Israelis wear protective face masks in Tel Aviv, on October 18, 2020. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The national tally of active coronavirus cases dipped below 30,000 on Monday morning for the first time since September 8, according to figures published Monday morning by the Health Ministry, with virus infection levels staying low as Israel emerged from a monthlong nationwide lockdown.

The ministry confirmed 892 new cases Sunday out of 25,623 tests conducted, a positive test rate of 3.5 percent, indicating that COVID-19 morbidity in the country is the lowest since late June.

The figures came as Israel on Sunday began easing a monthlong closure 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.

The positivity rate reached 15% in late September, and has slid steadily since. On October 7 it dipped below 10% for the first time, but it had not dropped below 4.5% until Saturday.

On Saturday, only 398 cases were diagnosed out of 14,215 tests, with a positivity rate of 2.8%. Those were the lowest figures since June 26.

Testing levels are traditionally lower on weekends, although in recent months lower testing levels usually coincided with higher, not lower, positivity rates.

The total number of cases since the start of the pandemic reached 303,846. The death toll stood at 2,209.

According to the data, there were 29,617 active cases as of Monday morning. That figure had reached a high of 72,164 as recently as October 2, before starting to drop dramatically. However, the definition of who has recovered and who still has the virus has changed frequently, and the number may again jump when new tallies are slated to be published later Monday morning.

The number of serious cases, which had been over 800 a week ago, dropped to 619, including 212 on ventilators. Another 178 were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

A hospital worker at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem takes a swab to test for the coronavirus on October 12, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

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.

The report said an hundreds more fatalities have been identified since August in relation to the same months in previous years, but did not provide data to detail the assertion.

Officials have warned that infection rates were likely to bounce back up as Israel emerges from the lockdown, which has seen the country drop from over 9,000 new cases a day to under 1,000 in just three weeks.

Preschools and daycare centers were reopened on Sunday, with the Health Ministry reportedly finalizing its requirements for restarting the rest of the school system.

The plan comes amid fear that reopening the education system could undo all the gains achieved in the second lockdown. This has been exacerbated by ultra-Orthodox schools in high-infection “red” cities reopening illegally, in defiance of government restrictions.

Israelis can now once again travel more than one kilometer from home and visit others’ homes so long as caps on gatherings are adhered to (10 indoors, 20 outdoors). Restaurants are allowed to offer takeout food; businesses that don’t receive customers can open; people can visit beaches and national parks; and the Western Wall plaza and Temple Mount compound are open for worship under certain restrictions.

Ultra-Orthodox men walk in the Sanhedria neighborhood in Jerusalem on October 18, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The easing of some of the rules, in force since September 18 as part of a second lockdown in six months against the pandemic, had been approved on Thursday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, contingent on new cases being no higher than an average of 2,000 per day for a week, along with a positivity rate no higher than 8% and a basic reproductive level (R0) of up to 0.8.

The lifting of restrictions this time around is scheduled to take place in several phases lasting until February 2021.

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