Two ministers enter quarantine after exposure to carriers

Israel’s coronavirus case count passes 150,000, deaths cross 1,100

3,962 cases recorded Friday; nearly 500 serious cases in all; nearly 1 million have quarantined since July 1; officials said to fear test criteria producing many false positives

People wear protective face masks in Tel Aviv, September 10, 2020 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
People wear protective face masks in Tel Aviv, September 10, 2020 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Israel passed 150,000 total coronavirus cases over the weekend, with 3,949 cases diagnosed Friday and another 2,397 by 10 p.m. Saturday. The total case count since the pandemic began stood at 152,722, of which 38,119 were active cases.

Meanwhile, 10 more people died, taking the national death toll to 1,103. The number of serious cases rose to 495, with 202 in moderate condition

The number of tests carried out on Friday stood at 43,377, similar to the number of daily tests over the past week.

A Health Ministry report Saturday showed 978,000 people had been ordered into quarantine since July 1 due to experiencing symptoms or meeting with known carriers (quarantine usually lasts 12-14 days since last contact with the known patient, or two days after the disappearance of a high temperature that has not been diagnosed).

Channel 12 news reported Saturday that Health Ministry officials are looking at changing criteria for positive diagnoses, amid concerns the current interpretation of PCR tests was overly sensitive and often provides false positives.

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

These criteria were creating a warped and inaccurate picture of infection levels, health officials fear, as they reviewed the possibility of altering procedures.

Two ministers, Culture Minister Chili Tropper and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel, were ordered to enter quarantine Saturday after being exposed to confirmed carriers of the virus.

Amid the continued surge in the number of new infections, ministers voted on Thursday to impose a full lockdown nationwide starting next week ahead of the fall holiday period, pending a full cabinet vote on Sunday.

The lockdown will take place in three stages, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry.

The specific dates for each stage have not been announced and the implementation of the second and third rounds of restrictions will depend on the outcome of the previous phase, the statement said.

The first phase of restrictions will be the most severe, but the rules will then slacken if morbidity levels decrease.

The Finance Ministry, Prime Minister’s Office and head of the National Economic Council will put together an “economic safety net” for business owners and members of the public who are expected to experience economic hardship during the lockdown.

On Friday, top business leaders warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that a new national lockdown would be disastrous to the local economy and many businesses threatened to defy closure orders and open up anyway.

The initial ministerial vote on the new lockdown plan came amid growing worries of Israel’s health system being overwhelmed by an influx of seriously ill patients.

Coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu told ministers on Thursday he is hoping the impending widespread measures will drop the number of daily cases from their current level of 3,500-4,000 to 600-700 infections — the approximate level Israel was at the height of the first wave of the pandemic.

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