Israel’s confirmed virus cases surpass 90,000, but tests show downward trend

Israel’s confirmed virus cases surpass 90,000, but tests show downward trend

Government said preparing for potential lockdown, but percentage of positive test results shows decline over past week; 14 deaths reported in 24 hours

A technician carries out a diagnostic test for coronavirus in a lab at the Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, on August 3, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
A technician carries out a diagnostic test for coronavirus in a lab at the Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, on August 3, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Israel’s confirmed coronavirus cases crossed 90,000 on Friday morning as authorities were reportedly preparing a potential national lockdown in case infection rates don’t go down.

The Health Ministry recorded 1,739 new infections and 14 deaths in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total count to 90,472, of which 23,665 were active cases.

The death toll grew to 657.

The number of serious cases was at 377, down by 9 from Thursday morning. Of them, 110 were on ventilators.

Another 158 patients were in moderate condition, and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

The ministry said 26,854 coronavirus test results came back Thursday, of which 6.1 percent were positive. The percentage of positive results has steadily declined over the past week after it rose to 9.3% on August 8.

Still, during a meeting Thursday evening of the so-called coronavirus cabinet, National Security Council chief Meir Ben-Shabbat proposed a renewed general lockdown to stop the outbreak, Channel 13 reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked for a plan to be developed within a week to possibly impose a general lockdown if infection rates stay high, the report said, without citing a source.

Prof. Ronni Gamzu, the government’s new coronavirus czar, during a press conference at the Health Ministry on July 23, 2020. (YouTube screenshot)

However, so-called coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu noted it was a contingency plan for an emergency only, and that there was no current intention of shutting down the economy, according to the report.

Likud MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, the head of the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee, reportedly called for culture venues to be opened since “the economic crisis and social isolation are no less severe and life-threatening than the health crisis.”

She said that dire predictions of 1,000 serious patients within two weeks if gyms, restaurants and swimming pools were reopened have not come to pass.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry called on the public to avoid going to the Druze town of Yarka in the Western Galilee due to its high rates of infection. There are  currently 274 active cases in the town out of a population of some 17,000.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday approved a call-up of 3,000 reservists to assist in the military’s coronavirus response efforts, his office said.

The majority of these reservists will come from the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command, which contains the military’s recently formed “Coronavirus Command,” a unit tasked with carrying out epidemiological investigations and improving the country’s efforts to identify and isolate carriers of the disease and those they may have been in contact with.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks to the media outside his home in Rosh Haayin, August 9, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

The latest call-up was in addition to the 3,000 reservists Gantz approved on August 2, his office confirmed.

Under Gantz’s order, the military will be able to keep these 6,000 reservists in service until September 17.

However, a key part of the country’s efforts to fight the virus and cut infection chains could soon take a blow after a labor union representing workers at state-funded labs said Thursday that it may call a strike, potentially hampering the testing of thousands of suspected coronavirus samples a day.

The group is seeking better working conditions and said it had become overwhelmed by the influx of coronavirus tests. But the Finance Ministry has refused to budge, bogging down the talks, it said.

“The crisis with the Treasury can lead to the halting of coronavirus tests and, no less dramatic, other lab tests, which will paralyze the entire health system,” said union representative Esther Admon, according to the Walla news site.

Globes news reported that starting out, workers at state-funded labs earn only NIS 31 ($9) an hour, a quarter of what workers at private labs can earn. The union said the low wages made it impossible to attract workers or keep existing employees.

An IDF soldier tests a coronavirus sample in a military lab in an undated photograph, released on August 4, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy told Army Radio Thursday that although he expects there to be a decrease in the number of coronavirus cases in Israel in around two weeks’ time, the numbers will not be sufficiently low that chains of infection can be effectively broken.

Levy earlier this week cast doubt on schools opening as planned on September 1, despite insistence from the Education Ministry that the date has not moved. Netanyahu said Wednesday that the government was “doing everything” to ensure that the new school year will begin on September 1.

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy during a press conference in Jerusalem about the coronavirus on July 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I agree with the need to start the studies,” Levy said on Thursday. “We will have another discussion closer to the beginning of the [school] year.”

On Tuesday, Israel surpassed China in total number of cases since the pandemic began.

Fresh restrictions went into effect Tuesday morning that continue to cap gatherings at 20 people outdoors and 10 indoors, limit cars to three (non-family) passengers at a time, and limit businesses to one customer on the premises for every seven square meters (75 square feet) of space.

Businesses are prohibited from serving customers who are not wearing masks, must take the temperature of those who ask to enter the premises, and must post signs detailing appropriate behavior. Shared eating spaces in open-air markets and in shopping malls will be closed. Deliveries must be left outside recipients’ doors.

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