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Despite rising infections, top health official says lockdown unnecessary

In first press conference as director-general, Chezy Levy says 1,700 new virus cases found in past week, in 50 communities, and with more young people affected

Chezy Levy, the director-general of the Health Ministry, at a press conference at the Health Ministry on June 21, 2020. (Screen capture: Facebook)
Chezy Levy, the director-general of the Health Ministry, at a press conference at the Health Ministry on June 21, 2020. (Screen capture: Facebook)

New Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy on Sunday sounded the alarm on rising coronavirus infection rates in 50 towns and cities around the country, while indicating the government was not seeking to reimpose lockdown measures to curb the spread.

“Just during the past week, over 1,700 new cases were discovered, and 30-40 serious cases. There is no doubt there is a change in the infection rate. It worries us,” Levy told reporters.

Levy, who took up the post last week, said younger people make up a higher percentage of the sick, relative to the period between March and May. New infections have been detected in over 50 communities, which he said indicates “broad community spread.” With some 15,000 daily tests, the number of those coming back positive has climbed from 1.3 percent to over 2%, he said.

Israel has seen the number of new COVID-19 cases continue to climb by nearly 300 a day, leading the Health Ministry on Sunday to instruct hospitals around the country to prepare to reopen their coronavirus wards.

A man receives a warning from a police officer for not wearing a face mask on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem on June 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Diagnoses have risen steadily over recent weeks after being brought down to some 20 cases a day in May following two months of strict restrictions that shuttered business and schools and kept many from being able to travel more than a few hundred feet from home.

Levy’s comments came as the Health Ministry recorded 91 new cases since Saturday night, bringing the number of active cases to 4,743. It said there were 40 people in serious condition, 28 of them on ventilators. Another 53 people were in moderate condition and the rest were displaying mild symptoms. The death toll since the start of the pandemic is 306.

Even as he warned of the spiraling rates of infection, Levy said he opposed renewing lockdown measures and said the government was not currently in favor of the step.

“I don’t think we need to head toward a lockdown. The government, too, is not talking about a lockdown,” said Levy, urging citizens to keep social distancing and wearing masks. He also acknowledged “public fatigue from the difficult lockdown,” but stressed that all must remain vigilant and even those displaying mild symptoms should go get tested.

“I don’t think we’ve lost control. We are aware of the situation,” he said, when pressed by reporters on the government’s handling of the surge in cases.

Looking ahead, Levy also said the state would struggle with the “double problem” of the coronavirus and the flu early next winter, and urged all to get vaccinated for the flu to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by patients.

People walk in Jerusalem’s city center on June 16, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

He also assessed that, by July, Israel will have acquired enough ventilators to treat patients even in the worst-case scenario, which predict thousands requiring artificial respiration. Levy also sought to tamp down concern over forecasts with dire predictions about the pandemic’s trajectory in the country, saying “models are models” and will not necessarily come to fruition.

The press conference came hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel could be thrust into a new coronavirus lockdown, citing “grave predictions,” a day after a leaked report from a military task force predicted thousands of new cases and hundreds of deaths if authorities do not take immediate steps to slow the spread of the virus.

“If we don’t change our behavior on wearing masks and keeping distance, we will bring reimposed lockdowns on ourselves,” Netanyahu said at the outset of the weekly cabinet meeting.

“All the predictions I have been shown are grave. We must flatten the curve now,” he said.

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