Israel to step up mask enforcement as virus cases spike overnight

88 people diagnosed since Tuesday evening; city and immigration officers to check adherence to virus regulations, including masks and quarantine

Israelis, some wearing protective face masks and some not, in Tel Aviv on June 9, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis, some wearing protective face masks and some not, in Tel Aviv on June 9, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A further 88 coronavirus cases were diagnosed overnight, the Health Ministry announced Wednesday morning, indicating a continuing trend of mounting infections after the country decided to roll back most restrictions last month.

The number of active virus cases has surged to 2,761, according to Health Ministry figures, after having dipped below 2,000 last month.

Of them, 31 were in serious condition, including 24 on ventilators. Another 41 were in moderate condition, and the rest were displaying mild or no symptoms.

The death toll remained steady at 299.

Technicians carry out a diagnostic test for coronavirus in a lab at Clalit Health Services branch in Tel Aviv, on June 9, 2020 (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The ministry said that 13,972 people were tested during the past day, a continued drop since a high of 16,224 on Friday. Sunday saw 15,023 tests and there were 14,343 tests carried out on Monday.

On Tuesday, Health Ministry Yuli Edelstein highlighted the importance of further increasing the number of daily tests.

“Our goal is to do more than 30,000 tests per day,” he said.

Earlier in the week 179 cases were identified in 24 hours, the highest number of daily cases diagnosed since late April. Officials have bemoaned a slackening of public observance of virus rules, though lawmakers and policy leaders have also flouted health guidelines.

Israelis, some wearing protective face masks and some not, in Tel Aviv on June 9, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered stepped-up enforcement of social distancing rules, including giving city officials the power to join police in enforcing mask wearing and rules against large gatherings. A day earlier, the government decided to freeze plans for a further easing of restrictions that would have allowed trains and concert venues to open.

According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, local authority inspectors and qualified Population and Immigration Authority inspectors will now enforce the wearing of masks, and stop gatherings held against regulations.

In addition, they will have powers to check adherence to the so-called Purple Badge standard for businesses and commercial centers, and work to enforce quarantines for people diagnosed with the coronavirus and those they have been in contact with.

The statement said the Federation of Local Authorities will prepare a training program for city inspectors and the Justice Ministry will carry out out any legislative procedures necessary to grant the inspectors the powers they would need.

Health officials have attributed much of the recent rise in new cases to schools, which reopened in May after a two-month closure.

A cleaning worker disinfects a classroom at the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem on June 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The government last week decided against closing all schools, but said it could use targeted closures anywhere a coronavirus case is found.

Edelstein on Tuesday warned that the renewed coronavirus outbreak was quickly becoming a “dramatic event” and said that to curb it without reimposing a nationwide lockdown, enforcement of social distancing rules would have to be as strict as the enforcement of traffic laws.

“In the entire year of 2019 there were 349 fatalities in traffic accidents. Over the last three months 298 people have been killed by the coronavirus and over 18,000 contracted it,” Edelstein said during a tour of medical centers in the southern Negev region. “You can do your own math.”

“We are heading rapidly toward more than 200 patients a day,” said Edelstein at Soroka hospital in Beersheba. “After we were at a lull, the disregard of regulations caused this spike. There is no magic involved: If you treat the instructions as recommendations, the coronavirus won’t leave us. It’s that simple.”

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