In highest rate in months, 9.1% of virus tests return positive

Serious cases decline for second day in a row; cabinet to meet Tuesday on extending lockdown, health minister will suggest restricting air travel

A medical worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine injection, at a vaccination center in Jerusalem, on January 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A medical worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine injection, at a vaccination center in Jerusalem, on January 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Monday said the percentage of positive coronavirus tests confirmed the previous day was 9.1 percent, the highest level in over two months, ahead of an expected extension of the nationwide lockdown.

Early morning test results returned Monday showed the positive rate going up even further to 9.4%. The last time the positive test rate was that high was on October 6, when it reached just over 10%.

There were 5,616 new virus cases confirmed Sunday, a little over half the number of average daily new infections diagnosed last week when numbers surged to nearly 10,000, the ministry figures showed. However, virus testing has also gone down by nearly half over the weekend.

The new cases brought to 80,436 the number of active patients. Since the start of the virus outbreak in the country, 551,689 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. The death toll stood at 4,005.

The figures also showed a small drop in the number of seriously ill patients for the second day in a row. There were 1,130 seriously ill COVID-19 patients in the country Monday, down from 1,183 on Sunday and 1,210 on Saturday.

Ziv hospital team members transport a new patient at the coronavirus ward of the hospital in the northern city of Safed on January 07, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Serious cases of COVID-19 had been steadily rising until the last two days, burdening hospitals and their coronavirus wards.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Monday that a pregnant coronavirus patient who arrived at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem in need of an urgent Caesarean section operation was forced to wait 40 minutes until doctors could carry out the procedure under virus protection requirements. The baby was delivered, but in serious condition, and died two days later.

Experts told the station that the wait was excessive, while the hospital said in a statement the mother had delayed for several hours after the emergency center advised her to come in.

Even as infections mount, Israel has stepped up its vaccination campaign, with over 150,000 given a shot on Sunday.

A medical worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine in Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv on December 20, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

So far 2,116,257 citizens have had the first shot of the two-dose Pfizer vaccination, while 309,065 have had both doses, according to ministry figures.

“2.1 million people vaccinated with the first dose and more than 300,000 already vaccinated with the second dose!” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein tweeted.

He wrote that 152,000 vaccinations were carried out Sunday, of which 72,000 were first doses and 80,000 the second shots.

“At the same time, the pressure on hospitals is tremendous. Follow orders — they are written in blood!” he warned.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein seen as the two millionth citizen to get the coronavirus vaccine is given the shot, in Ramla, January 14, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Edelstein told Army Radio that he would recommend that the government apply restrictions to air travel when the cabinet meets Tuesday to discuss extending an ongoing national lockdown, ordered to curb the virus infections, and which is scheduled to end on Thursday.

Ministers are reportedly divided on whether to extend the highly unpopular lockdown, which has shuttered nonessential businesses and the education system.

The number of new cases each day and those in serious condition is still “astronomical,” Edelstein said, adding that he is uncertain extending the lockdown by another week will be enough.

Israelis returning from abroad will also soon be required to show a negative COVID-19 test result to enter the country, he said. Edelstein said that in the past there were legal issues with requiring Israelis returning from abroad to have a virus test. He said those issues have been cleared due to the emergence of highly infectious strains of the virus which have been brought back to the country by travelers.

In addition, the minster said he would recommend limiting air travel for Israelis to just those with diplomatic or humanitarian needs.

Tourist travel, Edelstein said, “can wait another few weeks.”

A Channel 12 report Sunday said Israel’s single gateway to the world at Ben Gurion Airport is seen by health officials as a major contributor to illness rates. But while some would like to see the airport shuttered entirely, legal complications make this a remote possibility.

The station said Health Ministry officials had hoped to see a drop in daily infections and serious cases, but there is no such trend at this time. The more contagious virus variants — particularly the British strain — are being blamed for the difficulty in bringing down illness rates and easing the heavy load on hospitals, despite the lockdown and mass vaccinations.

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