Israel’s daily caseload reaches 2,867, a 2-month high, as new restrictions loom

Rate of positive COVID-19 tests leaps to 3.5% and active cases pass 20,000, as deputy health minister says ‘no avoiding’ reimposed closures

Ichilov Medical Center staff members at the coronavirus unit of the Tel Aviv hospital, December 15, 2020. (Flash90)
Ichilov Medical Center staff members at the coronavirus unit of the Tel Aviv hospital, December 15, 2020. (Flash90)

Israel’s daily coronavirus infections surged to almost 3,000 according to figures released Wednesday morning, the highest caseload in over two months, as the country’s outbreak raced toward the threshold set by the government for reimposing nationwide restrictions.

The Health Ministry said in its daily update that 2,867 new cases were diagnosed the previous day, the highest since October 12 and a significant leap compared to Tuesday, which had 2,279 cases confirmed.

The number of new cases was partly a reflection of the large number of tests conducted, 81,675, a daily record since the start of the pandemic.

However, the rate of positive tests out of all tests was also on the rise and reached 3.5 percent, the highest daily rate in almost two months for a weekday. Testing levels generally drop on weekends, with the positivity rate temporarily rising.

The total caseload since the pandemic began reached 363,287. Active cases soared to 20,112, including 392 patients in serious condition and 144 on ventilators.

The death toll grew to 3,030.

MK Yoav Kisch, then chairman of the Interior Affairs Committee at the Knesset, on July 12, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch told Army Radio Wednesday morning that there was “no avoiding additional restrictions.”

The government-set benchmark for reimposing restrictions is an average of 2,500 daily cases over an entire week or a basic reproduction number of over 1.32. That figure, which due to its calculation is published as its value seven days earlier, was 1.27 last week, according to the ministry. Any value over one means the virus infection rate is increasing.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Tuesday night that the Health Ministry is expected to recommend a shutdown of commercial activity that will start next week and last for five weeks.

According to the reported plan, stores and businesses will likely be closed for five weeks. Since the proposed health regulations will leave the education system open in low- and medium-infection zones, the restrictions will have to last for more time because the presumed drop in infections that follows will likely be slower. Schools in virus hotspots will be closed if new restrictions are imposed.

People wearing face masks on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem, on December 15, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The ministry sources reportedly said that toward the end of the five-week period, certain venues — including performance spaces and shopping malls — will be allowed to open if all participants have a document proving they have either recovered from COVID-19 or have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Also allowed to reopen at that stage will be businesses that can serve a single customer at a time, such as hairdressers and beauty salons.

Israel has already had two national lockdowns since the outbreak began in March. Some restrictions from the second lockdown, limiting public life, are still in place.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein gives a press conference at a coronavirus vaccine center in Tel Aviv on December 13, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

Earlier Tuesday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told Kan that the government would not hesitate to again tighten regulations, including shutting down commercial activity.

Edelstein lamented the complacency he saw among much of the population, with many feeling the pandemic is close to its end after the first batch of vaccines arrived. “The situation won’t be easy for the coming months,” he warned.

Edelstein spoke as Israel prepared to launch a mass vaccination program next week, with the government setting a target of 60,000 vaccines a day once the drive begins, meaning two million Israelis would be vaccinated by the end of January.

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