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Hospital heads said to unanimously agree Israel heading to 3rd wave of virus

In videoconference with Health Ministry chief, officials said to warn there will be a third, if not fourth, virus surge before vaccines end pandemic

Medical personnel wearing protective equipment cover the body of a man who died from COVID-19, in the intensive care ward for coronavirus patients at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, November 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Medical personnel wearing protective equipment cover the body of a man who died from COVID-19, in the intensive care ward for coronavirus patients at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, November 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Hospital heads in Israel unanimously agree that the country is heading into a third wave of coronavirus infections, a report said Thursday, after the nation surpassed 1,000 new daily cases for the first time in a month.

According to the report by Channel 12 news, the hospital chiefs issued the warning in a videoconference meeting on Wednesday with Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy.

The officials reportedly agreed they expect at least one more surge of infections, if not two, before the epidemic is brought to an end in Israel through a vaccination program.

An unnamed source who attended the meeting told the network that all of the hospital chiefs agreed with the assessment that a surge in virus cases was on its way, and that the currently-low number of hospitalizations was only a result of the second national lockdown.

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

The source said that Levy did not give his opinion on the matter.

The warning from the health officials came as Israel surpassed 1,000 virus cases a day for the first time in a month, according to Health Ministry figures released Thursday morning.

The milestone is the latest indication that the spread of the virus may be re-accelerating, even as the government pushes ahead with reopening the country from its second lockdown.

There were 1,068 new cases diagnosed on Wednesday — 1.8 percent of the 60,463 test results returned, the ministry figures showed. The last time Israel saw daily cases above a thousand was October 22.

After topping 9,000 on Wednesday for the first time in nearly three weeks, the active number of coronavirus cases in the country rose to 9,422 out of a total 332,317 cases since the pandemic’s beginning.

Of those sick with COVID-19, 282 are in serious condition, of whom 122 people are on ventilators.

A Magen David Adom worker takes a patient to the coronavirus unit at the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, on November 1, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite the rising figures, cabinet ministers overnight approved a pilot plan to reopen 15 malls around the country.

Outdoor market areas and some museums will also be allowed to reopen as part of the pilot plan, which aims to test the efficacy of virus safety guidelines.

The malls will be allowed to open on Friday and remain open until December 6. The mall owners pushed to have the shops open by Friday to take advantage of Black Friday sales.

Israel imposed a monthlong lockdown on September 18 that succeeded in bringing down surging infection rates but also paralyzed much of the economy and public life, as well as shuttering the entire education system. The government has since begun lifting the restrictions but health officials have sounded alarms as the drop in infection rates first slowed, and then reversed.

Israelis stand in line outside a clothing shop advertising Black Friday sales in Tel Aviv, on November 25, 2020. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Senior health officials have warned repeatedly about the necessity for a possible third national lockdown in Israel to contain the coronavirus, warning against further easing of restrictions until an additional drop in infections.

The virus’s basic reproduction number — the average number of people each virus carrier infects — rose above 1 in the last days of October for the first time since the second national lockdown began to be rolled back earlier that month, and continued to rise before slackening slightly in early November.

Figures released Wednesday, which were based on new case numbers from 10 days earlier due to the virus’s incubation period, showed the figure at 1.06.

A basic reproduction number of over 1 indicates that case numbers will begin to expand exponentially.

The coronavirus cabinet, a forum of ministers dealing with the outbreak, had initially decided that the lockdown exit should only start if the transmission rate is under 0.8. Under the Health Ministry’s plan, rollback measures are supposed to be halted if the rate rises. The government has ignored that benchmark, however, pressing on with easing restrictions.

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