Israel records almost 300 new virus cases in single day as infections swell

Death toll up to 303 with one new fatality, Health Ministry says, as officials increasingly fear country heading to second COVID-19 wave

Israelis at a cafe in Tel Aviv on June 16, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis at a cafe in Tel Aviv on June 16, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Health Ministry said Wednesday morning that Israel had confirmed almost 300 new coronavirus cases in the previous 24 hours, the highest daily rise in nearly two months, amid worries that the country had entered a second major outbreak of the deadly pathogen.

The total tally of infections stood at 19,637, an increase of 299 infections since Tuesday morning — the highest figure since April 22.

One person died overnight, bringing the death toll to 303, according to the ministry’s website. No details were immediately published on the identity of the new fatality.

The number of active cases was nearing 4,000, after having dipped below 2,000 earlier this month after the virus appeared to fade, allowing the country to reopen most parts of its economy.

The ministry said 37 people were in serious condition, including 27 on ventilators. Another 40 were in moderate condition, and the rest were displaying mild or no symptoms.

A separate tally from the Prime Minister’s Office put the number of those on ventilators at 29.

The Health Ministry said almost 15,000 COVID-19 tests had been conducted over the previous 24 hours.

The numbers were published hours after the Knesset voted late Tuesday to extend for 45 days emergency regulations that allow the government to impose restrictions on the public as Israel struggles with the resurgent virus.

A group of ministers known as the coronavirus cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will convene Wednesday afternoon to discuss the rise in cases and whether to reimpose certain restrictions.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein in the city of Bnei Brak on June 16, 2020. (Flash90)

According to Channel 12 news, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein was pushing for the government to delay plans to reopen large venues such as theaters, which remain shuttered, along with train service. However, he is expected to run into serious conflict with other ministers, who want to see the country fully reopened.

Israel has lifted most restrictions on gatherings in the country, reopening schools, cafes, hotels, and restaurants in recent weeks. Earlier this week, it allowed weddings and other celebrations to be held with up to 250 guests.

However, most cultural events and performances remain banned, leading to daily protests by artists and others who say they are not getting enough government support. Israel’s borders also remain almost completely shut to non-Israelis.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu said he hoped to start opening Israel’s skies again, to Greek and Cypriot citizens, on August 1.

Netanyahu has warned that emergency regulations could be reintroduced if social distancing and hygiene measures are not adequately observed by the public.

Since lockdown restrictions were eased due to a sustained drop in new cases, virus cases have steadily climbed.

Much of the resurgence of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has been blamed on the education system, which has seen hundreds of new cases confirmed in schools and kindergartens. The entire education system was shuttered for two months during the lockdown that began in mid-March, then reopened in May.

Inspectors talk to a man not wearing a face mask in the northern city of Safed on June 15, 2020. (David Cohen/ Flash90)

On Wednesday, the Education Ministry said 635 students and educational staff had been infected by the coronavirus in the latest outbreak. It said 177 schools have been closed as a precaution and 22,000 people are in quarantine.

Eleven medical staff members at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital have contracted the virus, according to a report earlier on Tuesday.

Over the weekend, guards at the Prime Minister’s Residence and a worker at the President’s Residence fell ill with COVID-19, but neither Netanyahu nor President Reuven Rivlin were required to self-isolate under Health Ministry rules.

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