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Daily virus infections drop to lowest rate since late December

5,540 new cases diagnosed on Wednesday; serious cases also on the decline, for 3rd day; 7.5% of tests return positive

Students wearing face masks return to school at Gabrieli Carmel School in Tel Aviv on February 11, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Students wearing face masks return to school at Gabrieli Carmel School in Tel Aviv on February 11, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The number of new daily coronavirus cases fell for the third day in a row on Wednesday as the volume of seriously ill patients also continued a downward trend.

Still, despite a weekslong national lockdown and a mass vaccination program, infection rates have remained high, with health officials blaming new mutations of the virus for the continued COVID-19 outbreak.

Health Ministry figures released Thursday showed there were 5,540 new cases detected the day before. The number was the lowest mid-week caseload in over a month.

The number of seriously ill patients dropped to 1,027, the lowest number since January 9 when there were 1,006.

The slight downward trend came as Israel was in the fifth week of its third lockdown ordered to curb the virus spread, alongside a mass vaccination program.

Since the start of the outbreak early last year, there have been 711,981 COVID-19 cases diagnosed in Israel. There are 67,808 active cases, according to ministry data. The death toll is 5,265.

The positive test rate confirming infections on Wednesday was 7.5%, the lowest since January 16.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein at a press conference in Jerusalem on February 10, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Thursday urged the public to get vaccinated, promising benefits for the inoculated.

“We will incentivize the vaccinated with the green passport,” Edelstein tweeted, referring to a document that will grant those who have been inoculated or recovered from the disease access to public venues and services not available for those who have not. “Go and get vaccinated, it will protect not only you and those around you, [but] it will also enable you to return more quickly to a normal life,” he wrote.

Edelstein said that on Wednesday, 140,000 doses of vaccine were administered at centers across the country.

So far, 3,685,515 people have had at least the first shot of the two-dose Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine Israel is using, and 2,326,783 have had the second as well — around a quarter of the entire population.

Also Thursday, some 20 percent of Israel’s students went back to school in areas with low to medium coronavirus infection levels.

Meanwhile, police warned Wednesday they would heavily enforce coronavirus restrictions as dozens of businesses in at least three shopping malls announced plans to open in defiance of health rules on Thursday.

Though some lockdown restrictions were rolled back at the beginning of the month, much of the education system remains shuttered along with most nonessential businesses.

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