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As virus cases rise, task force warns downward trend in infections may be over

Positivity rate reaches 3.1% with 649 new cases of the coronavirus diagnosed on Sunday; government to re-examine mask requirement for first and second graders

Magen David Adom worker takes a patient to the coronavirus unit at the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem on November 1, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Magen David Adom worker takes a patient to the coronavirus unit at the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem on November 1, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A military task force warned on Monday that the rise in the rate of positive test results could indicate that the downward trend in coronavirus infections had stopped.

Israel sharply brought down its daily COVID-19 infection rates from some 8,000 in mid-September to several hundred by late October with a nationwide lockdown, which it began to gradually ease two weeks ago.

According to Health Ministry data on Monday, the rate of positive tests had risen from around two percent throughout last week to 2.9% on Saturday and 3.1% on Sunday.

“This probably indicates a slowing down to a halt in the decline in morbidity,” the task force warned, noting that there was still a decline in the number of fatalities and patients in serious condition compared to last week.

The positivity rate was taken from a smaller number of tests — fewer than 8,000 on Saturday, as is typical for the weekend, when testing rates plummet, and 21,115 on Sunday — after days in which as many as 40,000 samples were examined.

Medical team member takes a swab to test for the coronavirus at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on October 26, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Health Ministry figures on Monday showed there were 649 new cases of the coronavirus diagnosed in Israel on Sunday and that the death toll had gone up by one overnight, to 2,554.

The total number of cases since the start of the pandemic stood at 315,131.

The number of active cases was 9,800, with 372 patients in serious condition, 170 of them on ventilators. A further 105 were in moderate condition, while the rest were showing mild or no symptoms.

The figures were announced as the Health Ministry and Education Ministry said in a joint statement they were reconsidering the requirement that children in first and second grades wear masks throughout the school day, including in the classroom.

Students at Orot Etzion School, in the Jewish settlement of Efrat, in the West Bank on November 1, 2020 (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Mask-wearing for younger children at school was previously not a requirement, and the ministries said in the statement they would establish a joint team to look at the issue after a number of requests from parents and educators.

Grades 1-4 in schools, houses of worship, beauty salons, and bed and breakfasts reopened on Sunday as Israel continued to roll back some of the coronavirus restrictions under a gradual exit plan from the country’s second nationwide lockdown. Daycares, kindergartens and preschools reopened on October 18.

Also on Sunday, the cabinet endorsed new regulations increasing the fines for violations of coronavirus lockdown restrictions, but, under pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties, deferred the matter for discussion on Monday by the so-called coronavirus cabinet before it would be advanced to the Knesset for final approval.

After over a month of national lockdown that succeeded in curbing high infection rates, but also paralyzed much of the economy and public life, the government has struggled to agree on how to ease the restrictions, with pressure from some ministers to quickly lift the closure facing opposition by other cabinet members — among them the prime minister — who want to move more cautiously.

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