With the number of daily new coronavirus cases soaring to a new high, cabinet ministers were summoned Thursday to vote on Health Ministry recommendations to impose lockdowns on a number of neighborhoods in towns and cities across the country.
Hours before the meeting, the Health Ministry reported 1,650 new virus cases since Wednesday evening, the highest 24-hour tally since the start of the pandemic, with the total number of infections in Israel up to 34,825.
The ministry also announced two new fatalities since Thursday morning, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 348.
According to ministry figures, there are 16,025 active virus cases – 1,509 more than Wednesday. This included 122 people in serious condition, of whom 39 were on ventilators. Another 87 people were in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.
After delaying offering its recommendations to the so-called coronavirus cabinet on Wednesday, the Health Ministry was reportedly set to suggest the shuttering of neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Lod and Kiryat Malachi.
On Tuesday, the West Bank settlement city of Beitar Illit was declared a restricted zone for seven days, as coronavirus infections there spiked.
The new restrictions could differ by city, ranging from the bolstering of enforcement to a complete lockdown, depending on the severity of the outbreak.
According to Hebrew media reports, the neighborhoods set to be recommended for lockdown in Jerusalem will be Romema, Kiryat Sanz and Matersdorf — all majority ultra-Orthodox areas.
The decision to impose further lockdowns comes after mayors of several cities were reportedly outraged when they heard via media reports on Wednesday that they were included in the list of areas set for new restrictions. Several media outlets had reported that up to nine cities and towns, in whole or in part, were considered for being closed off: Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Ashdod, Modiin Illit, Ramle, Beit Shemesh, Kiryat Malachi, Lod and Ra’anana.
The heads of cities set for lockdowns were informed ahead of time, before Thursday’s meeting, Channel 12 news reported.
The ministerial meeting will be held at 9:30 p.m., following an 8 p.m. press conference in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz will introduce the government’s economic plan to assist businesses ailing due to the restrictions.
The last few weeks have seen the reversal of many of the gains made in the fight against the coronavirus in recent months. The country had been placed on a nationwide lockdown for several weeks at the start of the outbreak, but removed most of its restrictions by May to reopen the economy.
The current rate of increase in weekly infections in Israel is one of the highest in the world, according to a chart published Monday afternoon by the Health Ministry.
With hospitalization rates taking a few weeks to show a rise following increases in cases, the Health Ministry on Thursday told hospitals to prepare for a coming influx of patients.
A letter sent by the ministry to the heads of all hospitals told them to expect a rise in “the amount of patients requiring hospitalization and the need to prepare for the epidemic, in order to provide optimal care to patients.”
As such, the Health Ministry recommended reopening coronavirus wards and that “each hospital operate immediately, as you have already been instructed, a separate screening environment where respiratory or other patients suspected [to have] COVID-19 will be screened.”
The government on Monday passed a raft of restrictions to contain the renewed outbreak, including limiting the number of people at restaurants and synagogues, reducing the number of passengers on public transportation, hiking fines for not wearing face masks, and shutting down event halls, cultural venues, swimming pools, gyms, bars and nightclubs.