Daily virus case count tops 1,500 for first time since lockdown eased

2.3% of tests return positive; taskforce warns Israel on cusp of ‘third wave,’ urges government to reimpose some restrictions

Jerusalemites wearing face masks shop at the Mamilla mall in Jerusalem on December 1, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Jerusalemites wearing face masks shop at the Mamilla mall in Jerusalem on December 1, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Thursday recorded over 1,500 new coronavirus cases a day earlier, the highest daily rate since October 15, when Israel was still under full nationwide lockdown.

According to the ministry, 1,568  new infections were confirmed on Wednesday. At least some of the spike could be attributed to increased testing: Over 69,000 tests were performed Wednesday, the highest number since the start of the pandemic, though the positivity rate remained steady at 2.3 percent.

The number of active cases stood at 11,660, with 292 people in serious condition, 85 of them on ventilators.

The death toll since the start of the pandemic stood at 2,890.

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)

As of Wednesday, Jerusalem — Israel’s largest city, with the most infections — had surpassed 1,600 active cases, the highest level since late October. No other city in Israel had over 500 active cases.

The last time the daily infection rate was as high, in mid-October, Israelis were four weeks into a full lockdown and restricted to within 1 kilometer from their homes. The government began to lift some of the restrictions days later, but warned they could be reversed if case numbers rose again.

The renewed rise in infections comes as the government continues to roll back many of the rules that were in place during the second nationwide lockdown that began in mid-September, with high school students returning to class on Sunday, weeks after younger students did, and some malls allowed to reopen last week. Some museums also reopened Tuesday under a pilot program.

Museum workers prepare for the re-opening of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which reopened Dec 01, after being closed during lockdown since mid-September. November 30, 2020. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

A Thursday report by an army-run coronavirus taskforce warned Israel was on the cusp of a third wave of the pandemic, noting that cases have topped 1,000 on a weekly average. The rise in daily cases was largely not affected by the number of tests, it said.

The report also underlined a rise in cases among Israelis over 60, which reached 14% this month, and predicted a surge in hospitalizations within a week.

The taskforce urged the government to begin reimposing some restrictions to curb the infection rate.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the acting head of the ministry’s public health services division, on Thursday said she hoped Israel could avoid a third nationwide lockdown.

In an interview with the Kan public broadcaster, Alroy-Preis warned additional countries — including the UAE, with which Israel recently normalized ties — could soon be flagged by Israel as “red,” requiring returning travelers to quarantine.

The senior health official also cautioned that Israel was entering its third wave of the pandemic, noting that the number of cases has tripled in four weeks.

Sharon Alroy-Preis. (Courtesy)

On Wednesday, a report by the National Security Council’s coronavirus crisis center put the virus’s basic reproduction number — the average number of people each virus carrier infects — at 1.19 nationwide, nearly doubling in just over a month.

A basic reproduction number, also known as an R0, of over 1 indicates that the pandemic’s rate of spread in the population is growing. The Health Ministry had set an R0 of 0.8 as a prerequisite for emerging from a lockdown in the fall, and in late October it dipped to around 0.7 as a result of the restrictions, but has risen steadily since.

According to the report, infections were spreading slower in Arab majority and ultra-Orthodox areas, with reproduction values of 1.16 and 1.06, respectively, while the rest of the population had a R0 of 1.21.

The numbers represent the estimated infection rate as of 10 days prior.

Israelis wear protectrve face masks in Tel Aviv, on December 2, 2020.(Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

On Wednesday morning, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said that officials were still weighing recommending a national curfew to stem family visits over Hanukkah and Christmas amid the continued rise in new coronavirus infections.

His remarks came after Alroy-Preis warned Israel was entering a third wave of coronavirus infections, and that rising infection rates would likely climb even further. Alroy-Preis said the infection figures were “very worrying.”

Her warning joined that of coronavirus czar Nachman Ash, who said earlier Tuesday that Israel was in a “state of emergency” due to climbing infections.

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy, however, pushed back against those warnings.

“We’re not in an emergency situation at the moment,” Levy told Channel 12. “The rise in morbidity is likely to bring us there, perhaps even in big leaps, but we’re certainly not there yet.”

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