Health experts said to warn virus will soar, with 1,000 daily cases by next week

‘We’re on the verge of losing control,’ unnamed official cited by TV report warns ministers; 265 new infections recorded in 24 hours; army opens more hotels for patients

Jerusalem residents wearing face masks for fear of coronavirus  walk and shop at the Mamilla Mall near Jerusalem's Old City on June 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Jerusalem residents wearing face masks for fear of coronavirus walk and shop at the Mamilla Mall near Jerusalem's Old City on June 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Health Ministry officials predict that Israel will see 1,000 new coronavirus diagnoses per day within five days, with experts warning ministers the country is on the cusp of “losing control” over the renewed outbreak, according to a television report on Wednesday night.

The Health Ministry on Wednesday night reported 265 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours. The daily tally was slightly down compared to the morning’s data, which showed 420 cases of coronavirus diagnosed in the previous 24 hours. The daily case count also surpassed 400 on Tuesday.

Of the 5,520 active cases, 46 people are in serious condition, 28 of whom are on ventilators, according to the ministry. Another 41 Israelis are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.

A medical worker test residents of Elad that is under closure, at a mobile testing station for COVID-19 on June 24, 2020. (Flash90)

There were no new fatalities Wednesday, with the death toll remaining at 308. The ministry said 19,533 tests were carried out on Tuesday, the highest daily number, with a 2.3 percent positive rate.

The surge in cases has prompted health officials to forecast a sharp rise in the coming days, with as many as 1,000 new daily cases foreseen within just five days, according to Channel 13.

“We are on the verge of losing control,” health experts told the so-called coronavirus cabinet of senior ministers overseeing the government response to the pandemic.

Prof. Sigal Sadetzky, head of public health services in the Health Ministry, told Channel 12 that those involved in tracing the virus spread are “collapsing.” But she also expressed confidence that health officials could contain the virus without imposing another nationwide lockdown.

Sadetzky said she supported the government initiative to anchor in law and revive a surveillance project allowing the Shin Bet security service to track virus carriers and those exposed to them — despite the opposition of the agency to the move.

More virus hotels to open, additional fines handed out

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday night ordered the IDF’s Home Front Command to open additional hotels for coronavirus patients and for quarantine purposes. The army is currently running six facilities for those infected and people who cannot adequately self-isolate at home.

The police also stepped up enforcement against Israelis who failed to wear masks, handing out 2,265 fines on Wednesday, compared to 1,951 on Tuesday. The government this week upped the fine from NIS 200 to NIS 500.

Wednesday’s virus numbers were released hours after a partial lockdown went into effect on Elad, an ultra-Orthodox town in central Israel, and parts of the northern city of Tiberias. They will remain in place for a week in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.

Police officers at the entrance to the city of Elad, June 24, 2020 (Flash90)

According to the Ynet news site, the government has decided to shrink the size of Tiberias’s coronavirus restricted zone to just three streets, after initially placing the restrictions on five predominantly ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

Locals had complained the original decision was too wide and done with little regard for where outbreaks in the city actually were. According to the report, the closure will only apply to Shefa Haim, David Elazar and Zalman Shazar streets.

The government is expected to weigh additional restricted zones.

Ministers were still debating whether to introduce restrictions in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv, amid a sharp rise of coronavirus infections there, according to Channel 12 news. There are particular concerns about the beachfront city, which has a relatively older population in comparison with other outbreak areas.

The network reported Wednesday that a supermarket in the city, “Super Dosh,” appeared to be at the center of an outbreak with 20 diagnosed cases traced to it.

A military task force warned Wednesday that infection rates were “very high” in ultra-Orthodox communities in comparison to the rest of the country, with around 14 percent of all new infections this week diagnosed in just five locations. It pointed to the dense living conditions, difficulties in isolating patients and close connections between different communities around the country as contributing to the problem.

The task force named the predominantly ultra-Orthodox cities of Bnei Brak, Modiin Illit, Beitar Illit and Beit Shemesh as cities with concerning infection rates, as well as ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in the cities of Jerusalem, Ashdod, Netanya and Safed, along with Elad and the Tiberias neighborhoods that were locked down.

In addition, the southern town of Rahat and central city of Kfar Saba were both said to be showing fast rates of growth in the number of cases.

Israelis wear protective face masks as they shop for food at the local market in Tzfat, northern Israel. June 24, 2020. (David Cohen/FLASH90)

Gantz said earlier Wednesday he had signed an order authorizing the emergency call-up of 250 IDF reservists, mainly in the Home Front Command, to assist “as needed and in line with developments in the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.”

The sharp climb in the number of cases has stoked fears of a second virus wave and led the Health Ministry on Sunday to instruct hospitals around the country to prepare to reopen their coronavirus wards.

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