Health Ministry statistics released after nightfall on Saturday showed 1,021 new coronavirus cases were recorded since the start of Shabbat on Friday evening, with the number of infections since the start of the pandemic passing 60,000. Seven further fatalities were recorded over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 455.
Of the 33,160 active cases, there were 312 people in serious condition, 94 of whom were on ventilators. Another 158 were in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.
According to the ministry, there have been 60,496 virus cases recorded in Israel since the beginning of the outbreak and 26,882 have recovered from COVID-19. The ministry said 23,154 tests were performed on Friday and 4,208 so far Saturday. Testing levels typically drop significantly over the weekend.
Israel has seen a marked increase in cases over the past several weeks. On Friday, Health Ministry figures showed 2,022 new cases over the previous 24 hours.
Despite the rise in the number of coronavirus infections, the percentage of those killed by COVID-19 is markedly lower, Ran Balicer, an epidemiologist and executive at Clalit Health Services, told Channel 12 news on Saturday. While the death rate was 2.1 percent during the initial outbreak, it is now 0.8%, Balicer said.
Balicer said possible explanations for this are that authorities are now detecting a larger number of asymptomatic carriers and are doing a better job of protecting at-risk groups. Hospitals have also improved their ability to treat those sick with the virus, he added.
On Friday The New York Times ranked Israel sixth in the world in new daily cases per 1 million people, with a little under 200 a day at that ratio. The US was just above it at a little over 200 per 1 million, followed by South Africa, Panama, Bahrain and Oman, which led the pack with some 300 cases a day per 1 million residents.
Israel shuttered businesses for the weekend starting on Friday in a bid to stem the spread of the virus.
Restrictions aimed at curbing the coronavirus kicked in at 5 p.m. Friday and will remain in effect until early Sunday morning, after a tumultuous week that saw some of the government’s planned closures overturned by a Knesset panel.
Malls were closed for the weekend, as well as most stores, markets, open-air shopping centers, hair and beauty salons and gyms. They will be allowed to reopen at 5 a.m. on Sunday.
Restaurants were allowed to continue their operations under the existing rules, which allow up to 20 diners indoors and 30 outdoors. Beaches and swimming pools will also remain open.
Unlike during the nationwide closures of March and April, there were no limits on leaving home.
Supermarkets, pharmacies, and public transportation are not affected by the closure. Also unaffected are museums — except those aimed at children — exhibition spaces, zoos, cable cars, tourism sites and amusement rides.
Culture events, event halls, bars and nightclubs are already closed until further notice. Gatherings are currently permitted for up to 10 people indoors and 20 people outdoors. Synagogues are allowed to host prayers with no more than 10 worshipers.
The Knesset Coronavirus Committee this week continued with its series of reversals of cabinet-imposed restrictions, ruling in several separate decisions that restaurants, attractions, swimming pools and beaches could remain open over the weekend and that gyms may reopen on Sunday morning.
The committee has said the Health Ministry has not provided sufficient evidence to justify shuttering such places, but health officials say the origin of a significant portion of infections is not known, therefore forcing them to partially rely on global data on infections to decide on high-risk locations
The Knesset on Thursday passed a law that grants the cabinet expanded powers to impose wide-ranging restrictions to curb the coronavirus pandemic, while reducing parliamentary oversight, in a move seen as designed to disempower the Coronavirus Committee.
The so-called Great Coronavirus Law, which comes into force on August 10, reduces the Knesset’s oversight power and neuters the Coronavirus Committee.
Netanyahu had reportedly weighed firing panel chief Yifat Shasha-Biton of Likud, but instead the new law deprives her committee of its authority to reverse cabinet orders and grants four other Knesset panels more limited oversight powers.
The legislation allows the cabinet to set restrictions on the public, with the Knesset given just 24 hours to approve or reject the regulations before they take effect automatically. In addition, it includes a clause that allows the cabinet to bypass the Knesset and immediately implement measures deemed “urgent,” without specifying the criteria for making that determination. Knesset committees in those instances will still be able to reverse the emergency regulations, but only a week, and less than two weeks, after they are approved by the cabinet.
Israel was initially seen as a success story after clamping down on the virus by imposing a strict lockdown in March and April, but saw the pandemic surge to unprecedented levels after reopening schools and rescinding almost all restrictions in May.
Experts have blamed a too-speedy reopening and the lack of an effective contact tracing program as main factors in the virus running riot.
Michael Bachner contributed to this report.