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Daily virus case count jumps to over 1,800 ahead of nightly curfew

Highest figures in almost two months recorded, positivity rate also on the rise, as officials plot out new restrictions

Healthcare workers take test samples from Israelis to check if they have been infected with the coronavirus in Lod, on December 1, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Healthcare workers take test samples from Israelis to check if they have been infected with the coronavirus in Lod, on December 1, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Israel recorded its highest number of daily coronavirus cases in almost two months on Monday, as runaway infections upended the country’s gains during its second national lockdown and threatened to bring a third crashing down.

There were 1,837 new cases of the virus diagnosed on Monday, the Health Ministry said Tuesday, bringing the total number of infections since the outset of the pandemic to 347,331.

The last time Israel had more than 1,800 daily cases was on October 10, when it was still at the height of its second lockdown. Israel has seen daily case tallies nearly double in the last two weeks, according to a report from the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center.

The number of active carriers stood at 13,949, of whom 315 were in serious condition, and the death toll was 2,924.

The positivity rate for test results coming back Monday was 2.8 percent of 65,523 tests conducted, a rise over last week, when that figure was closer to 2% on average. On Monday, the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center said the average positivity rate over the previous seven days was 2.6%.

On Monday evening, as case numbers continued to climb around the country, ministers voted to impose a nightly curfew during the upcoming Hanukkah holiday and through January 2.

The three-week curfew will begin on Wednesday, a day before the holiday, pending approval from the Knesset. Other details have yet to be worked out.

However, while health officials are concerned that gatherings during the eight-day holiday will contribute to the virus’s spread, they have been skeptical that a curfew will be effective in tamping down resurgent infections.

“We cannot know if a nightly curfew will be effective. It only delays the inevitable. Approving the NSC plan is like declaring we’ll enter a full lockdown on January 2,” virus czar Nachman Ash was quoted by the Walla news site as saying during Monday’s meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet.

Coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash, seen during a visit at the Jerusalem Municipality on November 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The curfew would begin in the evening, around 6 p.m. or 7 p.m., and end in the early morning, around 5 a.m. or 6 a.m., according to reports. Stores will be shut and Israelis will be prevented from venturing beyond a certain distance from their homes during those times.

If infection rates do not drop by December 20, and new daily cases climb to 3,500, the National Security Council also suggested tightening restrictions considerably, closing stores and other businesses that accept customers. Should the cases continue to rise, topping 4,500 per day by January 2, Israel would enter its third nationwide lockdown under the plan.

Israel imposed its second nationwide lockdown in mid-September over the High Holidays, and it remained fully in place until mid-October, when the government began to gradually lift the rules. It has yet to lift all of the restrictions imposed at that time.

Speaking with Army Radio on Monday, Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy said that while the outbreak was initially concentrated mainly in the Arab community, it has now spread to all segments of Israeli society.

“This is a phenomenon that can accelerate in a very short time,” he said, arguing against further steps to reopen the economy. “We want to implement preventative measures now that will be lighter, rather than after the horse has left the barn.”

Israeli students arrive to school, at a high school in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, November 29, 2020. (Flash90)

The virus information center has warned that Israel will need one day of full lockdown for every two days of infection rates at current levels. It noted Tuesday that serious cases and deaths, metrics that lag several weeks behind the statistics on the number of patients, were also on the rise.

Currently, most health restrictions are targeted toward high infection zones, the vast majority of them Arab towns and cities that have seen infection rates swell over the past month. In other areas of the countries, schools are running at nearly full capacity, and most commercial activity is allowed.

Deputy coronavirus czar Ayman Seif told the Kan public broadcaster on Tuesday morning that for a time Arab Israelis constituted 40% of the new virus cases, but that figure has now dropped to 30%, highlighting the rise in infections in Jewish communities and the pitfalls of attempts to localize restrictions.

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