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Daily virus cases surpass 3,000, with 4.4% of tests positive

Health Ministry records highest number of infections in months, as government deliberates over whether to impose a third lockdown

Jerusalem residents wearing a face mask shop for groceries at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on December 21, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90 )
Jerusalem residents wearing a face mask shop for groceries at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on December 21, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90 )

The Health Ministry announced Monday that 3,046 new cases of coronavirus had been diagnosed the previous day, the highest total in months.

The last time Israel crossed the 3,000-case mark was in September.

Another 1,929 new cases were recorded since the start of Monday, the Health Ministry said.

The number of active cases in the country stood at 26,275, with 463 in serious condition, 115 of them on ventilators, according to the Health Ministry. Another 184 are in moderate condition, with the rest showing mild or no symptoms.

The death toll stood at 3,111.

A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at a Meuhedet vaccination center in Jerusalem, on December 21, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

According to the ministry, 4.4 percent of tests returned positive on Sunday, when 69,000 were administered. That figure was also higher than the percentage in recent weeks. Last week, the positivity rate hovered around 3%.

The new milestone comes amid assessments that Israel will soon declare its third national lockdown since the start of the pandemic, amid spiraling infections.

On Monday, the coronavirus cabinet voted to compel all Israelis entering the country from Wednesday at 2 p.m. to quarantine in state-run hotels, amid fears of a new, more contagious strain emerging,

Travelers will need to stay in the hotels for 14 days, which can be reduced to 10 days with two negative coronavirus tests.

If the hotels start to run out of space, the Health Ministry will draw up a plan to prioritize rooms and send others to home isolation.

Travelers wearing face coverings walk with their luggage in the almost deserted departures hall at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport in west London on December 21, 2020. (Niklas HALLE’N / AFP)

Additionally, all foreign nationals will be banned from entering the country. Until now, foreign travelers have been allowed entry into Israel to attend Health Ministry-approved life-cycle events for first-degree relatives, and for several other reasons.

It was not immediately clear how long the cabinet’s decisions would be in effect for.

Ministers on Sunday imposed a ban on foreign citizen arrivals from Britain, South Africa, and Denmark, while requiring Israelis returning from those countries to quarantine in a state-run hotel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media after receiving the the first vaccination against the Coronavirus, at Tel Hashomer hospital outside of Tel Aviv, on December 19, 2020. (Flash90)

Meanwhile on Monday, Health providers nationwide began to vaccinate citizens over 60 against the coronavirus Monday, as Israel’s immunization effort reaches the general public for the first time. A day earlier, 10,000 health workers and some public officials received the vaccine, kicking off Israel’s vaccination campaign.

After those over 60, next in line to be vaccinated will be Israelis working in jobs with a high risk of being exposed to the virus, such as teachers, social workers, first responders, prison staff (prisoners will also get priority), Israel Defense Forces soldiers and other security personnel.

Last will come the rest of the population, with a timeline depending on how many doses arrive in Israel and the level of demand by the priority groups.

Those under the age of 16, as well as pregnant women and people with known and relevant allergies, will not get the vaccine.

The government hopes to inoculate some 60,000 people per day and as many as two million Israelis by the end of January. But Hebrew-language media reports said that the first week would serve as a pilot program, tamping down expectations that hundreds of thousands of Israelis would be vaccinated within days.

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