1 in 9 tested haredim coming back positive

Health officials said to fear Israel on path to 6,000 daily virus cases

Health Ministry expects some 800 seriously ill by end of January in latest wave of pandemic, TV network reports

Doctors and nurses wearing protective gear work at the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, on December 17, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Doctors and nurses wearing protective gear work at the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, on December 17, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Health officials reportedly believe that Israel will reach 5,000 to 6,000 new daily coronavirus cases before the effects of new restrictions kick in, and consequently are pushing for significant constraints or another lockdown in order to gain control of the virus, according to a report by Channel 12 news Thursday.

Earlier this week, the cabinet tentatively approved a series of measures, including the complete re-shuttering of the commercial sector and a return to online learning for grades 1-4 in “red” and “orange” locales with high case numbers, such as Ashkelon, Or Yehuda, Ra’anana, Umm al-Fahm and several Jerusalem neighborhoods.

Those restrictions must be approved by the coronavirus cabinet — a smaller forum of ministers whose portfolios touch on the virus outbreak — which is slated to convene on Sunday.

Health officials told Channel 12 that the increase in movement and gatherings over the Hanukkah holiday will likely lead to a dramatic rise in case numbers that could see 5,000-6,000 new cases diagnosed a day and as many as 800 seriously ill patients by the end of January.

The National Security Council is currently considering proposing an immediate quick lockdown to curtail the quick rise in cases, the network said.

Israel has already had two national lockdowns since the outbreak began in March. Some restrictions from the second lockdown, limiting public life, are still in place since mid-September.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry may push the coronavirus cabinet to label all foreign countries as “red” — a move that would force every returning traveler to quarantine for 10 days upon return instead of allowing those from a select list of “green” countries to skip the process.

People wearing face masks on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem, on December 15, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In recent days, health officials have expressed particular concern over thousands of travelers returning from the United Arab Emirates, which recently normalized with Israel. Israeli tourists are reported to be attending shows and mass gatherings without any social distancing and officials fear many new cases will originate from this behavior.

According to Health Ministry figures released Thursday, 245 Israelis who returned from abroad since the beginning of December have tested positive for the coronavirus. Thirty of them returned from the United States, 26 from the UAE, 16 from Turkey, 27 from Ukraine, 11 from Russia, 8 from the Netherlands, 4 from the UK and the rest from other countries.

Additional figures from the Health Ministry showed a significant morbidity rise in Haredi communities, where one in nine tests have come back positive.

The data put the percentage of positive tests in the ultra-Orthodox sector at 10.6% with every carrier infecting 1.58 others on average.

In a Thursday briefing with reporters, the ministry’s public health services division head Sharon Elrai said that 12.8 percent of the total positive cases are from Haredi communities, despite the sector making up 6.7% of the total samples.

In its Thursday evening update, Health Ministry said that 2,823 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed on Wednesday and 1,949 cases had been diagnosed since the start of Thursday.

The total caseload since the pandemic began reached 367,633. Active cases were at 21,771, including 413 patients in serious condition and 106 on ventilators. The death count held at 3,050. The Health Ministry also conducted 83,602 tests on Wednesday, with 3.4% of them coming back positive.

The warnings of renewed restrictions come as Israel prepares to launch a mass vaccination program next week, with the government setting a target of 60,000 vaccinations a day once the drive begins, meaning two million Israelis could be vaccinated by the end of January.

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