Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu boasted Wednesday of Israel’s success in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, even as the country reached new highs in daily infections and patients in serious condition, and four more people were added to the death toll.
Netanyahu cited a report from the Financial Times, an international daily, that compared the national death rates per week of various countries so far in 2020 with their rates for the same months in previous years.
Of 21 countries, Israel was one of just three that did not have an excess death rate this year, meaning that coronavirus fatalities had not reached a statistically significant level. The other two were Iceland and Norway.
“Once again world figures testify to Israel’s success in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, but to maintain this situation we must now continue to make the correct decisions,” the prime minister said in a statement posted to social media. “Otherwise, we are likely to deteriorate to more morbidity and more deaths.”
Netanyahu’s remarks came amid a recent spike in virus cases that has prompted the Health Ministry to warn a second national lockdown may be needed, but has seen the cabinet divided and stalled over what restrictions should be imposed to curb the outbreak.
Protests over the government’s handling of the accompanying economic crisis have also intensified, as well as criticism of the Health Ministry’s inability to carry out contact tracing or formulate a coherent strategy for dealing with the virus.
The rise in cases began after the government gradually lifted a lockdown, ordered during an initial virus spread earlier this year, that succeeded in bringing down daily infection rates to double digits. Over the past few days daily infection rates have soared to well over a thousand.
“We made tremendous efforts to preserve human life in the first wave and we have been able to significantly reduce the danger and mortality rate from the plague. But the work is not done,” Netanyahu wrote.
שוב הנתונים העולמיים מעידים על ההצלחה של ישראל בהתמודדות עם מגפת הקורונה, אבל כדי לשמור על המצב הזה, אנחנו חייבים להמשיך עכשיו לקבל את ההחלטות הנכונות. אחרת, אנו עלולים להידרדר לעוד תחלואה ועוד מתים. pic.twitter.com/ZKjXOXabIm
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) July 15, 2020
Netanyahu was widely praised for moving quickly to shut Israel’s borders and lock down the country in March, keeping an outbreak largely in check until mid-June, and had appeared to relish his role as the national leader, appearing nearly nightly for televised updates on the pandemic.
He has since been pilloried for his government’s handling of the crisis as virus cases have skyrocketed. Opinion polls have shown once-high levels of trust in him and the government plummeting in recent weeks.
On Wednesday, the death toll hit 375, still well below many other countries which have seen thousands felled by the virus. The Health Ministry said nearly 200 people were in serious condition, the highest number reported yet.
Experts have predicted the health system may soon be overwhelmed and the death toll in Israel could soar in the coming weeks.