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Daily COVID cases surge to 125, the highest figure in months

Health officials say heavy fines to be imposed on those who visit banned high-infection countries or break quarantine when returning from abroad

Travelers at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on June 21, 2021. (FLASH90)
Travelers at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on June 21, 2021. (FLASH90)

Amid a surge of new virus cases in Israel, there were 125 patients diagnosed on Monday, a figure more than twice the number detected the day before and the highest daily caseload since April 20.

There were just 49 cases detected on Sunday.

Health officials, blaming arrivals from abroad who did not adhere to quarantine rules as the prime cause of the outbreak, said Tuesday that increased fines will likely be introduced to punish violators.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev were to visit Ben Gurion Airport later in the day to review procedures for processing arrivals.

“We will not hesitate to do what needs to be done,” said Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz earlier as he toured the Abarbanel Mental Health Center in Bat Yam.

Horowitz said that police will assist in enforcing quarantine rules and those who break them will face fines of up to NIS 5,000 ($1,530), the Walla news site reported.

“We decided to increase enforcement. This loophole will be closed,” Horowitz said of Ben Gurion, where on Friday many incoming travelers were allowed to leave the airport without having been tested, due to long lines.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz at the Abarbanel Mental Health Medical Center, Bat Yam, on June 22, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)

In addition, national coronavirus czar Nachman Ash told the Kan public broadcaster that fines of around NIS 5,000 are expected to be introduced for those who travel to six prohibited countries where there are significant virus outbreaks.

“I have no doubt it will be a deterrent,” he said.

The six countries currently on the Health Ministry blacklist are Russia, India, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa.

Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy said that officials are also planning to issue an order that masks be worn in schools in areas that have seen increased infection rate and where there is a virus spread in the local education system. The order will also apply to health centers.

“The order will include wearing masks in all places where there is contact between a therapist and a patient, and certainly in places where there is a high risk,” he said

“In crowded places, including crowded public transportation, it would be wise to wear a mask,” Levy said. “But this is not an order, this is an ongoing recommendation.”

He also stressed that there are currently no plans to reapply recently lifted restrictions that had been used to bring down infection rates.

Testing has indicated that the Delta variant, which was first detected in India, is driving the outbreak, Levy said.

Health Ministry figures released Tuesday showed that there are now 434 active virus patients in Israel.

Of those diagnosed, at least 78 were children, according to Hebrew media reports, with virus cases detected in schools in Ramat Hashaon, Kfar Saba, Kochav Yair and Herzliya, among other places.

The IDF said that two female soldiers and a civilian contractor have been diagnosed with COVID-19, despite all three of them having been vaccinated. The infected people were put into isolation in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines and testing will be done of other service personnel in relevant units, the army said.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash at Ben Gurion Airport on March 1, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

There are 89 active patients in the town of Binyamina, identified as a focal point of the recent resurgence of the virus, the highest number for any town in the country. The city of Modiin was next with 49 patients, followed by Jerusalem with 34.

A panel of experts tasked with advising on the virus outbreak will convene on Wednesday to discuss the latest developments.

Officials have expressed concern at the potential for the Delta variant to cause a relapse of the pandemic. Children are considered particularly vulnerable, as most are not vaccinated. Israel has begun offering vaccines to 12- to 15-year-olds, who previously were not included in the national vaccination plan, and in recent days health officials have increasingly advised that parents have their children inoculated.

Bennett announced late Sunday that Israel would step up COVID-19 testing and restrictions at Ben Gurion Airport, as well as enforcement of quarantine for those arrivals required to self-isolate.

Since the start of the outbreak last year 840,032 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Israel, and there have been 6,428 deaths due to the virus.

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