Israel passed the grim landmark of 1,000 deaths due to the novel coronavirus, the Health Ministry announced Saturday evening, becoming the 49th country in the world to do so.
In all, 14 new deaths were recorded over Shabbat, all but two of them on Saturday, bringing the number of people in Israel to have succumbed to COVID-19 to 1,007.
The number of new cases also continued to show no signs of slowing, with official numbers showing 2,349 new infections between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday, even on lower testing numbers.
The ministry said there were 2,617 new cases from midnight to midnight Friday, a slight drop from the record of over 3,000 new daily cases notched earlier in the week. In total there have been 128,768 cases since the start of the pandemic, 26,283 of which are still active.
There were 439 patients hospitalized in serious condition, of whom 128 were being treated with ventilators, the Health Ministry said.
Over 200 new cases were recorded in Jerusalem alone, which on Friday became the first city to pass 20,000 infections in Israel, nearly double the next highest city, Bnei Brak.
Israel has struggled to contain the second wave of the coronavirus, and officials have begun to increasingly consider localized lockdowns in high infection areas.
According to figures aired Thursday by Israeli television, Israel has the highest rate of new infections per capita in the world, by weekly average.
Israel recorded its first COVID-19 death on March 21 — 88-year-old Holocaust survivor Aryeh Even — and did not reach 500 deaths until July 30.
In just over a month since then, it has recorded 500 more, and top coronavirus official Prof. Ronni Gamzu has warned that at the current pace, Israel will continue to see around 400 deaths a month.
According to official stats released by the Health Ministry on Thursday, the victims have ranged in age from 19 to 102.
Health Ministry director Chezy Levy said Friday that a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the virus was still on the table. According to a report carried by Channel 12 news Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to only mull the possibility late next week.
On Sunday, the cabinet is expected to decide where it will impose sweeping new restrictions, set to go into effect Monday.
On Friday, Gamzu clarified that the restrictions approved by the so-called coronavirus cabinet in “red” localities with high infection rates would not include full lockdown measures in all areas. They are reportedly to be imposed on 8-10 of the cities.
“The proposal yesterday in the cabinet was for the imposition of a lockdown in eight cities with particularly high morbidity and the imposition of restrictions on movement in the rest of the red cities,” he said in a statement quoted by Channel l2 news.
The measures under discussion for “red” cities include banning entry and exit, keeping residents within 500 meters of their homes, stopping public transportation, and closing non-essential businesses and all schools, save for daycare facilities and special education programs.
Though there is no official word yet on which cities will be locked down, the 30 cities and towns currently designated as “red” are: Nazareth, Bnei Brak, Tiberias, Abu Snan, Umm al-Fahm, Elad, Aabalin, Buqata, Beit Jann, Jaljulya, Jatt, Daliyat al-Karmel, Zemer, Taibe, Tira, Kasra-Samia, Ka’abiyye-Tabbash-Hajajre, Kafr Bara, Kafr Kanna, Kafr Qassem, Lakiya, Sheikh Danun, Maale Iron, Ein Mahil, Assafiya, Arara, Fureidis, Qalansawe, Rechasim and Kfar Aza.
Many of the towns are predominantly ultra-Orthodox and Arab, two segments of the population that have been hit hard by the virus.
Local leaders, particularly in Ultra-Orthodox areas, have protested the measures as a form of discrimination.
On Saturday, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri told Channel 12 news he believed a full lockdown was needed, saying localized restrictions were insufficient.
“No one has succeeded in bringing down the numbers with another method,” said Deri, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.
In a meeting with Arab community leaders on Saturday, Gamzu warned there could be hundreds of deaths among Israeli Arabs within weeks if infection rates continued to rise.
“Every day there are around 750 new infections in Arab communities, and that will increase to 800. If you take half a percent, or 1%, within three or four weeks — that is the statistic — hospitalized in serious condition, what does that mean? It starts at four or five a day, then reaches dozens and could even get to hundreds of deaths per day,” Gamzu said at the meeting in the northern Druze town of Daliyat el-Karmel.
Worldwide, COVID-19 has been blamed for over 875,000 deaths, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. There have been over 26 million confirmed cases.