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Report finds Israel's new daily cases highest in the world

Health Ministry chief: Lockdown to continue, Israel near ‘point of no return’

Chezy Levy says he believes Israel won’t roll back closure immediately after holidays; positive test results, currently nearing 15%, have to first go below 10%

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy during a press conference in Jerusalem about the coronavirus on July 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy during a press conference in Jerusalem about the coronavirus on July 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry director-general said Sunday that he believed the country would not return to its pre-lockdown state immediately after the end of the Jewish holiday period, warning that Israel is “almost at the point of no return.”

Speaking to Army Radio, Chezy Levy slammed participants in Saturday night’s rallies in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying they didn’t adhere to the ministry’s restrictions on gatherings.

“I am calling on everyone: Despite the right to protest, you must pull yourselves together,” he said. “We built an outline that enables outdoor protests in pods. Did what we saw last night stick to that outline?”

Netanyahu admitted Saturday that his government made mistakes in emerging from Israel’s first national lockdown earlier this year.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on September 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry said Sunday that 5,855 new coronavirus infections were confirmed Saturday, after it reported a record 8,373 new cases diagnosed on Friday. Testing levels are lower on weekends.

Updated numbers raised the death toll overnight from 1,441 to 1,450.

A new report by a military task force said the number of new confirmed cases per capita in Israel is the highest in the world. However, the country’s testing levels are particularly high, and there are some countries, like Brazil and Mexico, with far higher rates of positive test results.

The report also found that the number of patients in serious condition has multiplied by 10 in three months and reflects “an authentic rise in morbidity.”

Levy said he was “concerned as an Israeli citizen.”

“I feel like we aren’t seeing what is happening and where we are going. We are seeing mass gatherings, with fear of [Yom Kippur] prayer services in places where we asked to limit the number of participants,” he said.

“I assume we won’t exit the lockdown immediately after Simchat Torah [on October 10]. I assume we won’t return to the daily routine as it was before,” Levy added. “School studies also will not fully resume immediately after Sukkot.”

Levy said infection rates must go down before the restrictions are lifted.

In recent days, the rate of positive test results has neared 15 percent. Levy said that figure must first go below 10%.

In a Hebrew video released Saturday by his office, Netanyahu said: “Did we make mistakes in the past? Of course. The opening of event halls was too fast, maybe the opening of the whole school system.”

He also pointed a finger at experts who he said counseled for opening the economy, the Knesset for overturning some government decisions, and the media for what he said was contribution to public apathy by portraying the response to the pandemic as overblown.

Netanyahu said Israel had “no choice” but to go back under lockdown, and urged people to stay away from synagogues over Yom Kippur.

As of Sunday morning, Israel had a total of 229,374 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, 68,788 of them active cases.

Medical staff wearing protective gear take a swab from a woman to test for the coronavirus, at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on September 14, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The number of COVID-19 patients in serious condition stood at 749, with 196 of them on ventilators. Meanwhile, 267 patients were in moderate condition, and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

The ministry said 61,159 tests were conducted on Friday and 45,016 on Saturday. The share of positive tests continued to rise, with a 12.5% positive rate on Thursday, 13.7% on Friday, and 13% on Saturday.

A sweeping new lockdown took force at 2 p.m. on Friday, though lawmakers were unable to reach an agreement over planned restrictions on protests and public prayers.

Under the new rules, nearly all businesses will be closed, with the exception of specific companies and factories designated as “essential” by the Defense Ministry’s National Emergency Authority, as well as grocery stores and food shops. Restaurants are permitted to operate on a home-delivery basis only.

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