Authorities to allow 800 people at state Independence, Memorial Day ceremonies

Health officials pleasantly surprised to see ‘significant decline’ in virus despite economy being almost fully open this week, optimistic about close-to-normal holiday celebrations

Israelis take part in celebrations marking 71st Independence Day, in Jerusalem on May 8, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Israelis take part in celebrations marking 71st Independence Day, in Jerusalem on May 8, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

If Israel’s coronavirus situation continues to improve, officials will not impose new restrictions for the Passover holiday and will authorize Independence Day and Memorial Day events to take place with public participation, Channel 12 reported Friday.

Israel’s serious COVID-19 cases dropped Friday to the lowest tally since December, as the country’s vaccination campaign kept striding forward, with more than 4 million citizens receiving both doses.

Health officials have expressed optimism that Israel is turning the corner on the coronavirus pandemic, being quoted Thursday by Channel 13 news as saying the situation was “the most hopeful it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic” last year. The officials said that if the positive trajectory continues, Israelis will be able to celebrate Passover without limitations at the end of March.

Channel 12 on Friday quoted health officials saying that they were seeing a “significant decline” in virus activity and that if this continues then the Memorial Day and Independence Day commemorations in mid-April would also be able to go ahead.

Last year the government took the unprecedented step of barring bereaved families from visiting the graves of fallen soldiers amid an intense lockdown.

Israeli soldiers during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Kiryat Shaul Military Cemetery in Tel Aviv, April 28, 2020. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

This year there would be few restrictions and the public ceremonies would go ahead with crowds of up to 800 people, the report said. However, health officials were watching the trends before making a decision on allowing the Independence Day concerts traditionally put on by different cities across the country.

Health Ministry data published Friday afternoon showed that 2,510 new cases were confirmed the previous day. The Ynet news site said more than half of them were under 19 years old, an age group in which serious cases are rare. The rate of positive tests stood at 3.1 percent, continuing the trend of low positivity.

Since the start of the pandemic, 816,198 Israelis have been confirmed to have the coronavirus. They include 34,322 active cases, of whom 621 are in serious condition — the lowest figure recorded since December 26. They also include 257 patients regarded as critical.

The total number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients dropped below 1,000 to 997.

The death toll was nearing the 6,000 mark and reached 5,980. The data showed 196 people died in the first 11 days of March. More than 1,400 died in January, with the rate appearing to slow down almost threefold.

Illustrative: Hadassah Ein Kerem staff members work in the hospital’s coronavirus ward, in Jerusalem on February 1, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The virus’s basic reproduction number, which represents the average number of people each carrier infects, dropped further to 0.83. A transmission rate below 1 means the outbreak is abating.

All the figures represent a dramatic improvement over the past two months, credited chiefly to the successful vaccination campaign. The success comes despite the more infectious new mutated coronavirus strains proliferating and despite the gradual lifting of virus restrictions.

The Health Ministry said 5,117,096 people have received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. The number of people who also received the second shot passed 4 million and stood at 4,094,073.

According to Ynet, around 1,140,000 Israelis remain who are eligible to get vaccinated and haven’t yet received the first dose of the inoculation.

The vaccination rates are relatively lower among the ultra-Orthodox population — where 80% of those aged 60 and up are either inoculated or recovered from the disease — and in the Arab community (81%). The figure among those who aren’t Haredi or Arab is 97%.

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