Daily virus cases continue downward trend, with positive rate of 11.7%

Ministers set to discuss increasing penalties for those caught flouting regulations; expert says sharp fall in new cases in Arab community but still rising among ultra-Orthodox

Lab technicians test samples of suspected Covid-19 patients at the Clinical Virology Laboratory of Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem on September 30, 2020. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)
Lab technicians test samples of suspected Covid-19 patients at the Clinical Virology Laboratory of Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem on September 30, 2020. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

The number of confirmed carriers continued its daily decline on Monday morning, with fewer than 3,000 new cases confirmed the previous day, the Health Ministry said, as ministers were set to meet to discuss tighter enforcement of regulations.

Testing was low on Sunday — just 26,332 people were swabbed, with a positive rate of 11.7 percent. Testing levels reached a record high last month of 50,000-60,000 tests on some days, but have dramatically declined since.

Officials have noted that reduced numbers of tests usually raises the positivity rate, while the positivity rate in recent days has been declining.

While that suggests the tightened nationwide lockdown could be tamping down infections, the the IDF’s Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center reiterated its position on Monday that the positive test rate was still relatively high and indicated “a much wider scope of morbidity than actually detected,” adding that more time was needed to see if there was a true downward trend.

Hospital workers treat a patient in the coronavirus ward at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on October 1, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The number of new cases reached an all-time high last week of 9,053 on Wednesday, went down to 7,031 on Friday, then 2,581 on Saturday — when the numbers are always lower due to reduced testing over the weekend — and 2,905 on Sunday, according to Health Ministry figures.

Health officials have expressed “cautious optimism” in recent days that the curve of infection has begun to flatten, following several days of declining numbers of daily confirmed carriers and a drop in the “positivity rate,” the percentage of virus tests that return positive.

Computational biologist Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute said Monday that the country should expect to have 1,000 patients in serious condition by next week, but that although the infection rate was dropping in Arab communities and the general non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish population, it was still rising within the ultra-Orthodox community, where there are widespread reports of noncompliance.

“In the Arab community there is a very sharp decline in the number of verified patients in the last week, a decrease of 50 percent. In the general [non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish] sector we see a 25 percent decrease in the number of confirmed patients,” he told the Ynet news site.

“In the ultra-Orthodox community, we do not currently see a downward trend, but in fact a continued rise since Rosh Hashanah,” Segal said. “The percentage of positive tests among ultra-Orthodox is 35%. There is a 60% increase in mortality in the ultra-Orthodox community, and this increase is expected to continue over the coming week. There is great concern about the Sukkot holiday and the number of gatherings in the ultra-Orthodox community. At the moment, the spread there continues.”

While new infections appeared to be declining overall, the number of seriously ill, which trails new infections by at least a week, is still rising, and stood at 878 on Monday morning.

There were 215 patients on ventilators and 314 in moderate condition.

The reported death toll in Israel since the start of the pandemic stood at 1,719.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a briefing on coronavirus development in Israel at his office in Jerusalem, September 13 2020. (Alex Kolomiensky/Yedioth Ahronoth via AP, Pool)

In a video released on social media on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed back against pressure to reopen the economy quickly and said the so-called coronavirus cabinet would meet on Monday to discuss an exit strategy from the lockdown, as well as enforcement of restrictions and increasing fines for those found flouting them.

It is expected that the next possible vote on changing restrictions will take place only on Thursday, after a sufficient period to see if the lockdown has been effective.

Last week, Netanyahu said the lockdown would last at least a month, and many of its restrictions could be in place for as long as a year.

A temporary road block at the entrance to Jerusalem on October 4, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Health Ministry officials are urging the government not to lift the lockdown measures until the infection rate has dropped dramatically.

Last week, health officials told the Knesset that the lockdown would have to remain in place until the number of daily confirmed carriers drops below 2,000 and the positivity rate goes under 7%.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the official leading the charge against lifting restrictions is the government’s coronavirus czar, Ronni Gamzu, who is expected to recommend to the cabinet that elementary schools and Haredi yeshivas remain closed at least for the coming month — and not until October 19  as under the current lockdown plan.

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