Health Ministry director warns of surge in serious cases, laments gyms opening

‘I’m not sure we all understand the extent of the rise,’ Chezy Levy says, after figure more than doubles in a week; says government trying to avoid nationwide lockdown

Health Ministry director general Chezy Levy speaks during a press conference at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on July 13, 2020. (Screen capture/YouTube)
Health Ministry director general Chezy Levy speaks during a press conference at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on July 13, 2020. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Health Ministry Director General Chezy Levy on Monday expressed alarm at the surge in the number of serious coronavirus cases, and said the government was attempting to curb infections while avoiding a new statewide lockdown.

“I am concerned about the rise in the number of patients, and I’m saying that as a doctor,” Levy, until recently the manager of Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center, said at a press conference. “Infections are increasing, as are coronavirus tests — around 27,000-28,000 every day, with some six percent showing positive results.”

“I’m not sure we all understand the extent of the rise in serious cases,” he said, after that number more than doubled in a week. Levy said the number stood at 183, of whom 54 were on ventilators.

Levy asked the public to stick to social distancing, mask-wearing, and hygiene guidelines, saying that could limit infections, while enabling the economy to stay afloat.

He said the government was trying to avoid the need to reimpose a nationwide lockdown, “because it is clear to us that a full lockdown entails financial, mental, and health costs.” However, he noted that other countries did reimpose lockdowns when the virus reemerged.

A woman exercises at the Mati gym club in the Malha neighborhood of Jerusalem on May 11, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Levy said he regretted the decision by the Knesset’s coronavirus committee to reverse the government’s shuttering of gyms and pools, adding that he would work to limit the scope of their reopening as much as possible.

The Health Ministry director said he was still working to appoint a “coronavirus commander” to lead the government’s effort to combat the pandemic, but that talks with former IDF Central Command head Roni Numa had ended with no agreement. Reports Sunday said Numa refused after he was offered insufficient areas of authority.

The Health Ministry said Monday evening that an additional 954 people had been diagnosed with the coronavirus since midnight, bringing  the total number of active patients to 20,560. There were 97 COVID-19 patients in moderate condition.

Three more people died, bringing the death toll to 365.

Christian nuns, wearing face masks due to the coronavirus outbreak, walk in the Old City of Jerusalem on July 9, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Recent weeks have seen the reversal of many of the earlier gains made in the fight against the coronavirus. The country was placed on a nationwide lockdown for several weeks at the start of the outbreak in mid-March, but removed most of its restrictions by May to reopen the economy.

Since the coronavirus first reached the country, 40,248 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

To contain the surge in new cases, the government has reimposed many restrictions on gatherings and economic activity, and on Friday a number of lockdowns came into effect in neighborhoods in five towns and cities hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak. That measure came a day after cabinet ministers approved the closures, as the number of new cases in Israel continued to rise, hitting over 1,000 a day.

The new figures come as experts warned of the need for further lockdowns and as lawmakers debated the merit of the new regulations introduced by the government last week.

Amid the rising number of cases, a team of experts from the Hebrew University on Sunday morning presented the government with a grim prediction that 100 more Israelis will die of the coronavirus by the end of July. They therefore recommended the reimposition of strict restrictions starting from next week, including a nationwide lockdown, if the rate of new infections does not slow down by then.

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