Israel passed the landmark tally of 100,000 coronavirus cases on Friday, less than four months after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the country had “achieved major success” against the pandemic.
The Health Ministry confirmed 1,515 new coronavirus cases since Thursday evening, bringing the total count since the start of the pandemic to 100,716.
There were 22,122 confirmed active cases, of which 390 were in serious condition, including 116 on ventilators. Another 146 were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms.
The death toll grew by another 14 since Thursday night, reaching a total of 809.
The ministry said that of 28,876 coronavirus test results returned on Thursday, 5.4% were positive, continuing a slight decline that started several days earlier. The number of daily tests carried out since Monday was nearly double the figures that were reported last week.
Israel has seen a persistent amount of new cases over the past several weeks, with experts blaming a too-speedy reopening and the lack of an effective contact tracing program as main factors in the virus’s surge.
A day after the so-called coronavirus cabinet failed to vote on a proposal for local lockdowns and regulations to contain the pandemic, the mayor of the coastal city of Bat Yam on Friday announced that the city’s beaches would be closed to non-residents.
It was unclear if the municipality had the authority to make such a ruling.
The municipality said in a statement that the decision was made due to “the high density [of people] in recent weeks on the city’s beaches and in particular on the separate beach.”
The separate beach has different times for men and women and mainly serves the ultra-Orthodox public — the municipality said that many of those using that beach came from so-called “red” areas of the country with high levels of infection.
“We are working around the clock to keep Bat Yam a ‘green’ city, in cooperation with all relevant parties and the city’s residents. At the beach it is impossible to maintain a distance, and we do not demand people wear masks,” said Mayor Zvika Brut, according to the Ynet news site. “We will not allow a risk to our residents due to overcrowding caused by the arrival of guests.”
According to the report, police and municipal inspectors were to be stationed at the entrance to the separate beach, with the particular aim of stopping the entry of chartered buses.
A vote on coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu’s proposal for containing the COVID-19 pandemic was pushed off on Thursday, following a tense meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet.
Channel 12 reported that the proposed regulations include, in “red” areas with high infection rates, a limit on going more than 500 meters away from one’s home; limiting gatherings to immediate family members; shutting down the education system, except for special education; and closing most of the public transportation system.
In other areas, the steps would include closing malls, markets, indoor dining in restaurants, events, shows and tourism. The education system would only be open to Grade 3 and under, and special education programs. Private businesses’ employee office attendance would be limited to 30 percent capacity, the report said.
The goal of the plan is to lower the infection rate to 400 new daily confirmed cases within four weeks. If the rate of infection is not slowed by September 10, new restrictions will take effect starting from Rosh Hashanah, on September 18, until October 11, after the Sukkot holiday.
Ultra-Orthodox ministers Aryeh Deri and Yaakov Litzman led the opposition to the plan, claiming it would prevent prayers at synagogues, according to leaks picked up by Hebrew media.
The meeting marked the third time the coronavirus cabinet discussed Gamzu’s “Traffic Light” outline and failed to approve it. The next discussion of the proposal will be held on Monday.
After the meeting, Gamzu said, “Cabinet ministers expressed support for the outline and for avoiding a lockdown.”
Infection rates remain high, amid fears that communal prayers and family gatherings over the holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot could cause a renewed spike.
Netanyahu and National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat were both pushing for a full nationwide lockdown in the coming weeks, while Gamzu has reservations, the Walla news website reported on Thursday, citing cabinet ministers and senior officials.
In the first wave of infection in March and April, Netanyahu imposed a lengthy nationwide lockdown with the support of then-Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov.
The measure succeeded in driving down cases, but was accompanied by historic economic damage.
The government’s failure to establish an effective testing and contact tracing system meant that infections spiraled quickly out of control once the lockdown was lifted. Since then, many ministers have taken a strong stand against lockdowns.
Gamzu has been a vocal opponent of sweeping lockdowns, favoring localized restrictions on outbreak hotspots. But that policy has not been approved by the coronavirus cabinet thus far.
“It’s a good plan, but it isn’t clear whether it’s implementable,” Walla quoted an unnamed senior minister as saying. “Israel is a small country and I’m not sure we can really make a distinction between different areas.”