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Active virus cases in Israel pass 11,000 for first time in over a month

Testing rates ramp up as deputy health minister says Hanukkah curfew still on the table

Health care workers take samples at a mobile testing station, in Lod, on December 1, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Health care workers take samples at a mobile testing station, in Lod, on December 1, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Health Ministry data on Wednesday morning showed 1,182 new cases of coronavirus diagnosed in Israel a day earlier.

The number of active cases in the country stood at 11,072, the highest figure since October 30.

Of those, 266 patients were in serious condition, including 94 on ventilators. A further 67 were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

The number of infections since the pandemic began increased to 338,591. The death toll held steady at 2,877, with no reported overnight fatalities.

Clowns wearing protective equipment entertain a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care ward for coronavirus patients at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, Nov. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Testing reached its highest level of the week with 62,734 performed on Tuesday, and1.9 percent coming back positive, a slight drop from recent days.

On Wednesday morning, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said that officials were still weighing recommending a national curfew to stem family visits over Hanukkah and Christmas amid the continued rise in new coronavirus infections.

MK Yoav Kisch, then chairman of the Interior Affairs Committee at the Knesset, on July 12, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The issue is still under discussion. The Health Ministry is considering the possibility, but it is not an effective step in reducing morbidity,” Kisch told Army Radio.

While health officials have previously cast doubt on the efficacy of nightly curfews in curbing the spread of COVID-19, Kisch said on Tuesday in an interview with Channel 12 that there’s a “logic” to such a measure over the holiday to prevent people gathering around nightfall to light Hanukkah candles together.

It was unclear if the proposal had the backing of health officials or the cabinet, which has final say on any restrictions. Ministers have in the past rejected Health Ministry proposals for some lockdowns and other regulations.

On Tuesday, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the acting head of the ministry’s public health services division, said that officials were not planning on attempting to impose a lockdown over the winter holidays.

“We’re on the verge of restrained steps — right now every sick person is infecting more than one other. It’s possible that limited measures can slow the advance of the disease, and we won’t need significant steps,” she said.

Alroy-Preis’s comments were made in a briefing in which she warned Israel was entering a third wave of coronavirus infections, and that rising infection rates would likely climb even further.

Alroy-Preis said the infection figures were “very worrying.”

“This rise does not include [those caused by] the opening of malls or the return of grades five and six, meaning there will be more rises. This is the start of the third wave,” Alroy-Preis said.

“This is an emergency,” she said. “We are identifying more and more ‘orange’ cities [with moderate infection rates].”

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy, left, and Sharon Elroy-Preis, acting head of the public health services division, at a press conference about the coronavirus on October 8, 2020. (Eyal Basson/Health Ministry)

“This is exactly how the second wave started. Many of the sick are coming from red countries — it’s a serious vector,” she added, referring to countries with high infection rates.

She said officials are looking into the possibility of reopening isolation hotels for those returning from abroad.

Alroy-Preis’s warning joined that of coronavirus czar Nachman Ash, who said earlier Tuesday that Israel was in a “state of emergency” due to climbing infections.

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy, however, pushed back against those warnings.

“We’re not in an emergency situation at the moment,” Levy told Channel 12. “The rise in morbidity is likely to bring us there, perhaps even in big leaps, but we’re certainly not there yet.”

Levy also told the Kan public broadcaster he doesn’t think the government will, or necessarily can, ban travel to Turkey, after reports said the National Security Council was weighing such a move.

Alroy-Preis said although the main infection zones were in the Arab community, numbers were high in the general population as well.

The first patient enrolled in Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, May 4, 2020. (Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP, File)

She also advised against relying on a vaccine getting to Israel anytime soon.

“We’ll likely need to get through the winter with most Israelis not vaccinated,” she said.

The renewed rise in infections comes as the government continues to roll back many of the restrictions that were in place during the second nationwide lockdown, with high school students returning to class on Sunday and some malls allowed to reopen last week.

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