8,000 new cases recorded in week

Health minister said to warn of nationwide lockdown if daily cases surpass 2,000

Yuli Edelstein’s reported comment comes as more than 1,600 infections are recorded in day; Health Ministry director-general says full closure is ‘always on the table’

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, on June 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, on June 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has warned that the government could reimpose a nationwide lockdown if the number of daily virus infections climbs to 2,000, according to a report published Friday.

“If we reach 2,000 patients a day, this will be a flashing red light,” Edelstein was quoted by the Ynet news site on Friday as telling his associates. “We’re trying not to get there, but this will likely lead us to a general lockdown.”

His comment came after more than 1,600 infections were recorded in 24 hours between Wednesday evening and Thursday evening, breaking the previous daily record, and as the government ordered lockdowns on neighborhoods in five towns and cities with high rates of infection. Nearly 8,000 new COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed since last Friday.

The director general of the Health Ministry, Chezy Levy, told Ynet on Thursday night that the possibility of instituting a nationwide closure — as Israel did in the first wave of the coronavirus in March and April — “is always on the table.”

Health Ministry director general Prof. Chezy Levy speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on June 21, 2020 (Flash90)

Levy said the government was seeking to avoid the move and instead roll out pinpointed restrictions targeting areas hit hard by the virus.

“I really hope we won’t get to a total lockdown, and that we will manage to reduce the infections,” he said.

Addressing Israelis, he added: “We don’t want to reach the point of lockdown, help us. Help us with your behavior.”

On Thursday evening, the Health Ministry reported 1,650 new virus cases since Wednesday evening, the highest 24-hour tally since the start of the pandemic.

On Friday morning, the ministry data showed a rise of 1,586 new cases since Thursday morning, bringing the number of active cases to 16,651.

The ministry said 124 people are in serious condition, 39 of them on ventilators. Another 87 are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild symptoms or none at all.

The ministry also reported two more deaths, bringing the national toll to 350.

It recorded 35,533 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, 18,532 of whom have recovered. It said 27,996 tests were conducted on Thursday, and flagged Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Bnei Brak and Ashdod as hotspot areas where more testing was needed.

Over 1,000 new cases have been recorded in the capital this week, according to the Health Ministry, and more than 500 in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

Medical staff examine a mock coronavirus patient during an exercise simulating treatment at the Ziv Medical Center in Tzfat on July 9, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

On Thursday, parts of Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Lod, Ramle and Kiryat Malachi were declared “restricted zones” for seven days, starting at 1 p.m. on Friday, the Prime Minister’s Office and Health Ministry said in a joint statement. The restrictions will be lifted at 8 a.m. on July 17.

On Tuesday, the West Bank settlement city of Beitar Illit was declared a restricted zone for seven days, as coronavirus infections there spiked.

In the restricted areas, entries and exits will be limited, as well as traffic and business activity inside the area, the statement said, without elaborating.

Police put up roadblocks in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish settlement of Beitar Illit, on July 8, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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.”

Israelis wear protective face masks in Tel Aviv, on July 8, 2020. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

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.

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