Daily virus cases top 1,000 for first time in a month as reopening continues

Health Ministry records 1,068 diagnoses in 24 hours; ministers nevertheless push on with pilot to open malls and markets

Hospital team members move patients to the new coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on November 16, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Hospital team members move patients to the new coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on November 16, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The number of new daily coronavirus cases diagnosed in Israel rose to over a thousand on Wednesday, a level not seen in over a month, according to Health Ministry figures released Thursday morning.

The milestone is the latest indication that the spread of the virus may be re-accelerating, even as the government pushes ahead with reopening the country from its second lockdown.

There were 1,068 new cases diagnosed on Wednesday — 1.8 percent of the 60,463 test results returned, the ministry figures showed. The last time Israel saw daily cases above a thousand was October 22.

After topping 9,000 on Wednesday for the first time in nearly three weeks, the active number of coronavirus cases in the country rose to 9,422 out of a total 332,317 cases.

Of those sick with the virus, 282 are in serious condition, of whom 122 people are on ventilators.

Magen David Adom worker takes a patient to the coronavirus unit at the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem on November 1, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite the rising figures, cabinet ministers overnight approved a pilot plan to open 15 malls around the country.

Israel imposed a monthlong lockdown on September 18 that succeeded in bringing down surging infection rates but also paralyzed much of the economy and public life, as well as shuttering the entire education system. The government has since begun lifting the restrictions but health officials have sounded alarms as the drop in infection rates first slowed, and then reversed.

In the new measures, outdoor market areas and some museums will also be allowed to reopen as part of the pilot plan, which aims to test the efficacy of virus safety guidelines.

The so-called coronavirus cabinet approved the plan, which was put forward by the Finance Ministry and the Ministry of Economy and Industry.

The malls will likely be allowed reopen on Friday and remain open until December 6. The mall owners pushed to have the shops open by Friday to take advantage of Black Friday sales.

Outdoor markets will also be allowed to reopen, with attendants at the entrances enforcing social distancing and mask-wearing and limiting the number of people allowed in. Eating will not be allowed in either markets or malls.

Israelis stand in line outside a clothing shop advertising Black Friday sales in Tel Aviv, on November 25, 2020. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Last week, some malls in Israel opened in a rebellion against lockdown rules amid widespread frustration among store owners over government policies that kept indoor malls shuttered.

Malls have been closed — except for the essential stores within them — since mid-September under the lockdown rules. Street-front stores were allowed to reopen earlier this month, with a cap on the number of customers, which was raised from four to 10 on Wednesday.

The initial opening of stores drew crowds of shoppers who in many instances ignored social distancing rules as they waited in line to enter stores.

Senior health officials have warned repeatedly about the necessity for a possible third national lockdown in Israel to contain the coronavirus, warning against further easing of restrictions until an additional drop in infections.

The virus transmission rate rose above 1 in the last days of October for the first time since the second national lockdown began to be rolled back earlier that month, and continued to rise before slackening slightly in early November. Figures released Wednesday, which were based on new case numbers from 10 days earlier due to the virus’s incubation period, showed the figure at 1.06.

A transmission rate of over 1 indicates that case numbers will begin to expand exponentially.

The coronavirus cabinet, a forum of ministers dealing with the outbreak, had initially decided that the lockdown exit should only start if the transmission rate is under 0.8. Under the Health Ministry’s plan, rollback measures are supposed to be halted if the rate rises. The government has ignored that benchmark, however, pressing on with easing restrictions.

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