Israel has entered a second wave of coronavirus infections and, if it does not take immediate steps to bring numbers down, could in one month’s time face a thousand new cases a day and hundreds of deaths, a military body coordinating information on the pandemic has said.
The Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center, operating under the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate in cooperation with the Health Ministry, issued the report Saturday as cases throughout the country continued to rise, warning of a potential need for a new national lockdown if immediate action is not taken to curb the reemerging pandemic.
The report was later criticized by one leading epidemiologist as unprofessional, though another backed up its claims.
The new wave of infections “is different in its characteristics from the first wave but no less severe,” the taskforce’s report said. “In recent weeks the number of new infections has risen steadily.”
On the positive side, the report noted that “the health system is better prepared with knowledge, treatment protocols and medicinal treatments” and that the average age of those infected was lower, which would contribute to lower mortality: “While in March-April some 13 percent of the sick were over 65, in May-June over-65s have gone down to 7.8%.”
But on the negative side, “in the previous wave of sickness a significant number of the new illnesses derived from Israelis returning from abroad. This population was in many ways easier to identify and contain. In the current wave, the illness’s source is only from within the community and is thus harder to control and limit.”
The Center said that since national restrictions and lockdowns were eased the Israeli public had developed an overly complacent attitude towards the disease, with many failing to wear masks in public as instructed and not maintaining safe distance from others.
The Center warned Israel could eventually be faced with the need for a new country-wide lockdown, but said this could potentially be avoided if certain steps were taken urgently in the coming days.
These included reevaluating certain recent eased restrictions (an apparent reference to mass celebrations and cultural events being reinstated with up to 250 people); increasing public awareness of the danger, as well as boosting enforcement of guidelines; and enacting efficient mechanisms to enforce quarantine and to disrupt chains of infection.
“We believe that without swift and decisive action to carry out these steps, whose cost to the economy is relatively limited, Israel could find itself in a month forced to make far more painful economic and social decisions.”
Diagnoses have risen steadily over recent weeks and in recent days have seen numbers hover between 200-300 a day, after being brought down to some 20 cases a day in May.
The National Security Council on Saturday morning reported that 39 additional infections had brought the number of people diagnosed with the coronavirus over the past 24 hours up to 268.
Another person died of complications from the virus overnight, putting the death toll at 305.
The latest numbers took the total number of cases since the start of the pandemic to 20,533, of which 4,598 are active cases. There were 39 people who were seriously ill, 29 of them on ventilators.
The security body said 12,766 tests had been administered Friday, a steep drop from 16,369 tests on Thursday. Testing rates are often lower on Fridays and Saturdays.
On Friday, the Health Ministry reported there were 349 cases found over the previous 24 hours, the first time over 300 cases were diagnosed in a single day since late April.
Despite the increase, the cabinet on Friday gave the go-ahead to hold cultural events of up to 250 people with certain limitations. The green light applied to cinemas and theaters, and took immediate effect.
According to the decision taken Friday, events can go ahead as long as venues are at no more than 75% capacity, dancing is prohibited and standard coronavirus precautions are observed.
Audiences at events will have to be seated and the sale of tickets must be done ahead of time.
In certain situations, with prior approval, events of up to 500 people will also be authorized, the cabinet decided.
The government has repeatedly warned the public to continue to adhere to social distancing and hygiene orders amid concerns that a slacking of attitudes is allowing the spread of the virus to pick up pace anew.
Leaders have indicated they are averse to a new national lockdown but that they will seek local closures on any hotspots that emerge.
On Thursday, government ministers voted to place parts of two southern Bedouin towns under partial lockdown. The week-long closures of two neighborhoods in Rahat and one in Arara (Negev) appeared to be the first such orders given since Israel began to gradually pull back restrictions in early May.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there won’t be any further easing of coronavirus restrictions until the recent spike in infections is flattened, and warned that the government will resort to reapplying lockdowns to achieve that goal.