Israel’s coronavirus death toll hits 300, as new infections spike overnight

Over 100 cases confirmed since Wednesday night; COVID-19 patient partied with hundreds at Rishon Lezion nightclub; Jerusalem school at center of outbreak reopens

Medical workers at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv treat a patient in the coronavirus unit on May 4, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Medical workers at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv treat a patient in the coronavirus unit on May 4, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Israel’s coronavirus death toll hit 300 on Thursday, as infections continued to spike with more than 100 cases confirmed overnight, the Health Ministry said.

There were no immediate details on the new fatality.

The ministry’s website updated the country’s total cases to 18,461, an increase of 106 since Wednesday night and a surge of about 1,700 in two weeks, after fewer than 1,200 cases were identified throughout the entire month of May.

The number of active cases, which dipped below 2,000 last month, stood at 2,947.

They included 31 in serious condition, of them 24 on ventilators. Another 44 were in moderate condition, and the rest were showing mild or no symptoms.

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

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

The Education Ministry said Thursday 442 students and staff members have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the renewed outbreak began. It said 144 schools and kindergartens have been closed. Nearly 24,000 people are in quarantine following the discovery of the virus cases.

Partial studies resumed Thursday at the Gymnasia Rehavia school in Jerusalem, which was regarded as an epicenter of the renewed outbreak after more than 150 students and staff members were infected

However, few students arrived for classes on Thursday. Guards took the temperature of everyone who entered, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

The school reopened primarily for 11th- and 12th-graders who must complete their matriculation exams. The school principal told Channel 12 Wednesday that only small groups of students would return in the first phase of reopening, rather than the full classes that preceded the outbreak.

A report Wednesday said a confirmed coronavirus patient in late May had been present at Rishon Lezion’s Desert Night & Day Club, which has been seen in recent days crowded with hundreds of people dancing closely together with no social distancing.

The Rishon Lezion Municipality subsequently summoned the nightclub’s owner for questioning and closed it down, Channel 12 reported. The club responded by saying there had been 600 people in attendance while the full capacity is 1,930, underlining that it wasn’t breaching the Health Ministry rules.

Earlier in the week, 179 cases were identified in a 24-hour period, 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 wearing face masks embrace on a street in Tel Aviv, 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, cinemas and arts 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.

Amid the jump in cases, police were stepping up enforcement against Israelis failing to wear masks in public, handing out hundreds of fines on Wednesday. The number of mask fines distributed on Wednesday, 381, was four times higher than on any day last week, according to Channel 12. The fine for not wearing a mask in public is NIS 200 ($60).

Police have also fined more businesses who failed to heed the emergency rules. Fines for businesses range from NIS 2,000 to NIS 5,000 ($580-$1,450).

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