The Health Ministry on Tuesday said over 8,000 new coronavirus infections were confirmed the day before, one of the highest daily caseloads recorded in Israel since the pandemic began.
Health officials renewed their calls to tighten lockdown measures in response to the latest morbidity figures, which also saw the test positivity rate leap.
The 8,308 cases Monday was the highest daily increase since over 9,000 infections were recorded on September 30, when the country was under a second national lockdown.
Along with another 693 cases since midnight, the number of infections since the pandemic began rose to 450,116.
The death toll stood at 3,445, with 14 Israelis dying from COVID-19 on Monday.
Of the 55,312 active cases, there were 764 people in serious condition, including 183 on ventilators. Another 225 were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms. A total of 1,361 were being hospitalized for COVID-19 complications.
The Health Ministry said 108,755 tests were performed Monday, with 7.6 percent coming back positive, a jump of a percentage point from the day before.
Citing official data, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported that 42% of infections in Israel were among school-age children and teachers. Top health officials have called for the closure of schools as part of tightened lockdown measures, but the government is divided over the move.
The ministry’s director-general said he was “very troubled” by the rise in morbidity, which he chalked up in part to the spread of a variant of the virus originating in Britain that is believed to be more infectious.
“There’s undoubtedly a strengthening of the British variant here. It’s in Israel,” Chezy Levy told Radio 103FM.
He called for tightening the lockdown currently in place and temporarily shutting down the education system.
Levy also confirmed the first shipment of Moderna’s vaccine was set to arrive by the end of January, after the US biotech firm announced overnight that Israel approved its use.
“I’m prevented from discussing numbers, but there will be vaccines for everyone,” he said.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, meanwhile, said some 1,370,000 Israelis have already received the first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine, including nearly 146,000 on Monday.
“Full immunization comes only one week after the second dose. In the meantime morbidity is leaping. Therefore unfortunately there’s no choice but a full and quick lockdown,” Edelstein tweeted.
Edelstein’s office said he would hold an emergency meeting with top health officials Tuesday morning due to the latest rise in infections.
The surge in morbidity has been accompanied by a sharp rise in the number of Israelis infected with COVID-19 requiring hospitalization, with hospital chiefs warning Monday that new cases were flooding their facilities.
Wolfson Medical Center in Holon on Tuesday requested Health Ministry permission to refuse to admit more coronavirus patients, the Ynet news site reported.
The surge in new infections comes as the national vaccination campaign is in full swing, with Israel reaching a pace of 150,000 injections every day for the past several days. On Friday, Israel officially passed one million vaccinations or some 11% of its population — far and away the world leader in vaccinations per capita.
The mass vaccination drive started December 20 and has so far focused mainly on healthcare workers, those aged over 60, and at-risk groups.
Israel’s globe-leading vaccination drive has been attributed to various factors, including its relatively small but densely packed population and highly professional, community-integrated health services.
Tampering expectations, however, Hebrew media reports said Sunday that Israel will slow down or even completely stop vaccinating people next week with the first dose of the Pfizer inoculation due to a shortage of vaccines that will take several weeks to resolve. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the expected shipment of Moderna vaccines would affect that forecast.
Late last month Israel began its third national lockdown since the start of the virus outbreak, but the closure has been slammed as ineffective and full of holes, including schools and workplaces remaining largely open and a lack of enforcement. Commerce, recreation and travel have mostly been banned.
Ministers are expected convene Tuesday to decide on tightening the lockdown.