Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday evening ordered cabinet ministers to convene immediately to declare areas with high rates of COVID-19 infections “restricted areas,” his office said in a statement.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not specify which areas will be put on lockdown, but Channel 12 news reported that up to nine cities and towns, in whole or in part, could be closed off: Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Ashdod, Modi’in Illit, Ramla, Beit Shemesh, Kiryat Malachi, Lod and Ra’anana.
The channel said the restrictions could differ per city, ranging from the bolstering of enforcement to a complete lockdown.
The only area of the country currently under lockdown is the ultra-Orthodox city of Beitar Illit, which was declared a restricted zone on Tuesday for seven days as coronavirus infections there spiked.
Before the meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet, Netanyahu held a consultation with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat, at which they discussed morbidity data at various centers ahead of declaring restricted zones, Netanyahu’s office said.
The meeting came shortly after the Health Ministry released figures confirming 1,289 new coronavirus infections in the past day, with the number of total cases, patients in serious condition and deaths all up, as the government struggles to keep the renewed outbreak under control.
Only Wednesday morning’s 24-hour tally of 1,320 new cases surpassed the evening’s tally as the largest since the start of Israel’s outbreak in March.
The new cases brought the number of total confirmed cases to 33,175. The Health Ministry also announced another death, bringing the toll to 344.
According to ministry figures, there are currently 14,516 active virus cases. This includes 113 people in serious condition, of whom 39 are on ventilators. Another 82 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.
The number of serious cases has been steadily increasing since the start of the current outbreak. Two weeks ago Israel had 45 serious coronavirus patients. On Thursday the number stood at 65, it then jumped to 86 on Tuesday evening, and leaped overnight to 107 Wednesday morning.
Shorter quarantines, less testing
The Health Ministry is considering reducing the mandatory quarantine requirement for those potentially exposed to the coronavirus to 7-10 days, according to Channel 12 news, down from the current requirement of 14 days.
Additionally, the ministry is reportedly planning to tighten the criteria for carrying out coronavirus testing in a bid to ease pressure on an overwhelmed system.
Officials are discussing stopping the testing of asymptomatic people as well as reducing the authority of family physicians to provide referrals to tests, the Ynet news site reported.
The last few weeks have seen the reversal of many of the gains made in the fight against the coronavirus in recent months. New daily virus cases, which had dropped to low double digits through most of May, have soared to over a thousand a day, and the number of active cases has reached an all-time high.
The country had been placed on a nationwide lockdown for several weeks at the start of the outbreak, but removed most of its restrictions by May to reopen the economy.
The current increase in weekly infections in Israel is one of the highest in the world, according to a chart published Monday afternoon by the Health Ministry.
The government on Monday passed a raft of restrictions to contain the renewed outbreak, including limiting the number of people at restaurants and synagogues, reducing the number of passengers on public transportation, hiking fines for not wearing face masks, and shutting down event halls, cultural venues, swimming pools, gyms, bars and nightclubs.