The Israeli Health Ministry reported 1,198 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours on Saturday evening, and three additional fatalities, bringing Israel’s overall death toll as a result of the pandemic to 354.
There are currently 134 people in serious condition as a result of the COVID-19 disease, with 49 requiring mechanical ventilation. Another 102 people were listed in moderate condition with the rest having mild symptoms or asymptomatic. A total of 25,256 coronavirus tests were conducted between Friday and Saturday evening.
According to the latest figures, Israel’s number of active infections stood at 18,296 with total cases at 37,464. As of Saturday, 18,814 people have recovered, according to ministry records.
On Saturday evening Likud minister Ze’ev Elkin entered quarantine after an aide was diagnosed with the virus. Though he said he had not met with the aide in the past two weeks, Elkin, the minister for water resources and higher education, said that as a precaution he would be tested on Sunday and self-isolate until he receives the results.
A number of lockdowns came into effect on Friday in neighborhoods in five towns and cities hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak. This measure came a day after cabinet ministers approved the closures as the number of new cases in Israel continued to surge hitting over 1,000 a day.
As of Friday, parts of Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Lod, Ramle and Kiryat Malachi are “restricted zones,” with the restrictions set to be lifted at 8 a.m. on July 17.
A joint statement Thursday evening by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry said entries and exits of the restricted areas will be limited, as well as traffic and business activity inside the areas.
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 in mid-March, but removed most of its restrictions by May to reopen the economy.
Also on Friday, the Health Ministry announced significant changes to its quarantine and contact tracing policies for the coronavirus, which are expected to greatly reduce the number of people required to self-isolate at any given time.
Since the start of the pandemic, health officials carried out contact tracing for confirmed carriers for the 14 days prior to their diagnosis. Anyone who was exposed to the carrier within that time frame was ordered into preventive quarantine.
Going forward, the ministry will divide patients into different categories, narrowing the window for contact tracing, and therefore the number of people they find who were exposed to the carrier. Any person sent into quarantine will still be required to do so for a 14-day period, as before.
For patients with a clear onset of symptoms, contact tracing will be carried out for the four days prior to symptoms appearing, and only contacts within that window will be ordered into quarantine. Tracing for patients with no clear start to symptoms will go 10 days back since a positive diagnosis. Tracing for asymptomatic patients will go back seven days since their positive test result.
The Shin Bet domestic security service’s tracing program, which uses cellphone and other data, will go back 10 days for all patients. Previously Shin Bet tracking went back 14 days.
The controversial Shin Bet tracking program has come under fire in recent weeks as hundreds of Israelis complained they were notified that they must enter isolation, despite not being near the locations cited in the Shin Bet alert.
Prof. Sigal Sadetsky, the outgoing head of public health services in the Health Ministry, who announced her resignation earlier this week, said the new regulations, which have been employed in other countries, would allow health officials to focus on higher-risk individuals while limiting the number of people sent into quarantine.
“There is a price to giving up [quarantine of] contacts who may become sick later, but the data shows that price is acceptable when compared to the benefit,” Sadetsky said in a missive on the changes.
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.
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.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has reportedly warned the country could return to a nationwide lockdown if the number of daily virus cases surpasses 2,000.
Sadetsky, in announcing her resignation Tuesday, criticized the authorities’ handling of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and described a chaotic and ineffective approach to tackling the crisis.
“Israel is heading to a dangerous place,” she said.
“To my regret, for a number of weeks now, the handling of the outbreak has lost direction,” she wrote. “Despite systematic and regular warnings in the various systems, and discussions in various forums, we watch with frustration as the hourglass of opportunities runs low. Against this backdrop, I have come to the conclusion that in the newly created conditions under which my professional opinion is not accepted — I can no longer help to effectively cope with the spread of the virus.”
Sadetzki wrote that “too much time is invested in debates, discussions, consultants, forums and those acting for themselves, while the level of operation and details required for the success of the various operations do not receive the proper attention.”