Israeli virus deaths rise to 500, as ministers weigh removing weekend closures
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Total cases pass 70,000

Israeli virus deaths rise to 500, as ministers weigh removing weekend closures

Ban unlikely to be lifted this week, but some stores said planning to open anyway; IDF to set up contact tracing center with staff of 1,000; new 15-minute tests to enter into use

In this photo from the Health Ministry, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (C) visits patients inside the coronavirus ward at Yitzhak Shamir Medical Center in Tzrifin on July 23, 2020.  (Health Ministry)
In this photo from the Health Ministry, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (C) visits patients inside the coronavirus ward at Yitzhak Shamir Medical Center in Tzrifin on July 23, 2020. (Health Ministry)

Coronavirus cases in Israel rose by 1,545 on Thursday, the latest Health Ministry figures showed in the evening hours.

The national death toll rose by three to 500, with the total case count standing at 70,036. The number of recovered patients jumped considerably, from 35,516 in the morning to 43,489 in the evening.

The Health Ministry explained this reflected a change in its definition of recovered patients which has not yet been fully implemented.

Accordingly, the number of active patients dropped from 32,756 in the morning to 26,047, with 328 seriously ill patients (102 of them on ventilators), 148 moderately ill patients and the rest suffering only mild or no symptoms.

Healthcare workers carry out testing at a Clalilt health center in Modiin, on July 7, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/FLASH90)

According to Hebrew language news reports, newly appointed coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu was slated to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday evening to discuss the possibility of lifting the government’s weekend restrictions on businesses after Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein agreed that partial lockdowns only caused economic damage without bringing the health benefits of a full lockdown.

The weekend lockdowns will not be lifted for this weekend, however, according to multiples reports, due to disagreements between cabinet ministers on the matter.

Despite this, many shopping centers were said to be planning to reopen this weekend, in spite of the government restrictions.

MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, who is slated to be removed from her post as head of the Knesset Coronavirus Committee after angering Netanyahu by reversing COVID-19 regulations imposed by the cabinet, urged the prime minister to immediately lift the weekend restrictions, stating that her former panel had recommended such a move a week ago.

Internal Health Ministry data on Wednesday showed a significant slowdown in the number of seriously ill cases and fatalities in the latest wave of infections, when compared to the first wave in March-April.

Israel has the fifth-highest number of new coronavirus infections per capita in the world, overtaking the United States, according to data compiled by a scientific publication based at Oxford University.

And while the country has seen the number of new coronavirus cases rocket to more than 2,000 a day in recent weeks, a new Hebrew University report published on Thursday asserted that Israel has managed to gain control of the second wave of the coronavirus, thanks to a recent stabilization in the number of seriously and moderately ill patients.

The curve for seriously and moderately ill patients began to spike in late June before stabilizing in recent days, the researchers reported. They credited the restrictions imposed by the government in recent weeks to limit crowding for helping to flatten the curve.

People wearing face masks market in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

According to the report, the death toll will climb by roughly 200 in the coming three weeks as a result of the high infection rate over the past month.

On Monday, the ministry reported that coronavirus wards at four of Israel’s largest hospitals were full, with a fifth nearing total capacity. The ministry also recorded general overload in the hospitals, with two major Jerusalem medical centers and the largest hospitals in Tel Aviv and nearby Ramat Gan operating near or above full capacity.

Experts have blamed a too-speedy reopening and the lack of an effective contact-tracing program as main factors in the virus resurgence, which has come as new daily coronavirus cases around the world have also reached record highs.

The Health Ministry’s contact tracing efforts have come under fire during the second wave, with reports that its system for epidemiological investigation of those diagnosed has been far outpaced by the spread of the virus. In Israel, there is one epidemiologist for every 300,000 people.

However, on Tuesday, Gamzu said that the military would take over contact tracing while also vowing to ramp up testing while keeping government restrictions to a minimum. He also expressed confidence the virus rates could be brought under control.

The IDF “has the capabilities, it has the technologies,” to cut the chain of infection, he said, pledging an end to “illogical” rules that “harm the economy.”

According to a Channel 12 report Thursday, the IDF Home Front Command’s coronavirus headquarters in Ramle, outside Tel Aviv, is set to open early next week and begin its contact tracing work.

When it opens, it will include more than 1,000 researchers, the network reported, adding that Gamzu intended to bring onboard people able to work with minority groups such as the ultra-Orthodox and foreign workers.

The network also reported that the Health Ministry had ordered some 300 new machines that can process coronavirus tests in only 15 minutes. The machines, which have been tested by Magen David Adom together with the Israelis health maintenance organizations, are reportedly only 80% as effective as tests currently in use.

However, the devices’ speed is considered an advantage given the number of tests being conducted daily and they will start being deployed on Sunday.

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