Israel passes grim milestone of 3,000 coronavirus deaths since start of pandemic

Number of quarantined medical workers doubles in a week, reaches highest level in 2 months; taskforce says restrictions will likely be reimposed by end of month

Illustrative: Workers prepare a body before a funeral ceremony at a morgue for coronavirus victims, in Holon, on October 28, 2020. (Flash90)
Illustrative: Workers prepare a body before a funeral ceremony at a morgue for coronavirus victims, in Holon, on October 28, 2020. (Flash90)

Israel passed the bleak milestone of 3,000 coronavirus deaths on Monday as the rate of positive tests was on the rise and the country was seen as likely to face new restrictions by the end of the month.

According to numbers released by the Health Ministry in the late morning, there have been 3,003 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

There were 1,710 new cases confirmed on Sunday, with 3.4 percent of the 49,878 tests coming back positive — a higher rate than in recent days, when it was between 2.4% and 2.9%.

The total number of cases since the start of the pandemic grew to 358,293, including 17,691 active cases, a number that has been steadily rising over the past few weeks.

Health workers test Israelis to for coronavirus at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on December 10, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Of them, 383 were in serious condition, including 100 on ventilators. Another 133 were in moderate condition, and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

The number of medical workers in quarantine was 2,046, the first time it has passed the 2,000 mark since October 11. Just one week ago, that figure was around 1,000.

A report by a taskforce highlighted the rise in average confirmed daily cases, saying that over the previous seven days it was 1,758. Just three weeks ago, that number was around 750.

The Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center said that given the current basic reproduction number of 1.15-1.2 (the average number of people each virus carrier infects), daily cases were expected to reach 2,500 on a weekly average by the end of December.

That number has been cited by officials as a threshold beyond which the government will start reimposing restrictions as part of a plan nicknamed “tightened restraint.”

A nurse pretends to get a shot during a simulated vaccination against the coronavirus, at the Sheba Tel Hashomer hospital on December 10, 2020. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The Kan public broadcaster reported Monday that the country’s health maintenance organizations are estimating that a total of 82,500 people could be vaccinated every day when the nation kicks off its inoculation program, reportedly as early as next week.

The Clalit HMO expects to be able to inoculate 40,000 people per day, Maccabi estimates that number at 25,000, Meuhedet at 10,000, and Leumit at 7,500, the report said.

Top officials told media outlets Sunday that the Health Ministry was planning to hand those who are vaccinated against the coronavirus a “green passport” that will grant a waiver of restrictions applied to curb the virus outbreak.

Among the rights for holders will be access to cultural events and eating at restaurants, and the right to not quarantine after exposure to a diagnosed virus-carrier, they said. It will be issued two weeks after a person gets the second of the two shots required for the coronavirus.

A technician collects nasal swab samples for coronavirus testing at Ben-Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv on November 15, 2020 (Flash90)

The green passport would also enable travelers to fly abroad without having to first get a virus test, as is the current requirement, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told Channel 13.

Edelstein stressed the idea is not to provide a benefits package for people who get vaccinated but that “those who are no longer in danger of being ill with the coronavirus can do things that others who are still in danger of the virus can’t do.”

Government officials see the possibility for international travel as a key incentive for the public to get the vaccination, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

Polls have shown that anywhere from 50% to 75% of Israelis say they will refuse to get the coronavirus vaccine shot, apparently out of fears that the rush to produce an inoculation may have compromised its safety. Israel is readying to begin a mass inoculation program next week, with the first vaccinations reportedly to be administered this coming Sunday, December 20.

The Health Ministry will also set up a special command center to counter disinformation on social media about the vaccines, Kan reported.

The operation will have a dedicated social media team and cooperate with Facebook’s Israel division, as well as the Justice Ministry’s cyber department, to remove problematic posts. In extreme cases, officials may even consider filing a complaint with police if information spread is particularly erroneous and harmful.

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