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Tel Aviv doctor: We're struggling to make space for patients

Israel’s virus death toll passes 1,500, with 500 victims added in three weeks

Police prepare to further step up enforcement as percentage of positive tests and number of seriously ill continue to climb; 5 Haredi towns see 23%-32% positive tests

File: Medical workers operate a ventilation machine at Rambam Hospital in the northern city of Haifa, Monday, July 27, 2020 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
File: Medical workers operate a ventilation machine at Rambam Hospital in the northern city of Haifa, Monday, July 27, 2020 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Israel’s coronavirus death toll passed 1,500 on Monday night, the latest Health ministry data showed, with over 500 new deaths recorded in some three weeks. The death toll stood at 1,507, with 19 fatalities recorded Monday.

The latest grim numbers came as new diagnoses and seriously ill patients remained on the rise, as did the percentage of tests coming back positive — with the prime minister warning of a potential 1,500 serious cases by week’s end, and with officials fearing the national lockdown could be required to last weeks longer than originally planned.

With the Jewish High Holiday of Yom Kippur over, police were preparing to step up enforcement considerably starting Tuesday, Channel 12 reported.

This would include dozens of new checkpoints on highways between cities, with stringent checks of vehicles; increased inspection of at commerce centers and businesses and punitive action for those operating against health regulations; and heightened presence near synagogues, considered high-risk locations.

Police at a termporary roadblock in Jerusalem on September 27, 2020, during a nationwide lockdown (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

“Where we see violations [of the rules], and we’ve seen more than a few violations this past week, we’ll hand out fines, too,” Chief Superintendent Roee Waldman, head of Police’s Investigations Department, told the network.

On Monday night, as Yom Kippur ended, police responded to several incidents of ultra-Orthodox Israelis gathering in the dozens and hundreds in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, in violation of health regulations.

Dr. Guy Choshen, head of the coronavirus department at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Medical Center, told Channel 12 Monday night the hospital was seeing an ever-increasing case-load, as both the number of serious cases and those requiring ventilation continued to grow, with a particularly evident rise in the past few days.

“We see a rise in the number of those who come and are forced to fight to release patients to other facilities, to [coronavirus] hotels,” Choshen said. “We are really struggling to release in order to make space for the next patients coming in.”

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man prays ahead of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish year, at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem’s Old City, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

In a statement released by his office on Monday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set out a numbered list of items to be discussed when the so-called coronavirus cabinet convenes on Wednesday, with the health system preparing to treat 1,500 gravely ill patients by Thursday, October 1 at the top of the list.

The number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients stood at 772 Monday night, and it was not immediately clear why it was feared that number would double within two days.

According to Channel 12 news, Netanyahu believes the national lockdown could be extended to last for around a month in an attempt to contain the surging outbreak.

The coronavirus cabinet will also discuss setting goals and indicators for a gradual emergence from Israel’s second national lockdown, progress in vaccines and the purchase and use of rapid COVID-19 tests.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wears a face mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus as he opens the weekly cabinet meeting, at the foreign ministry, in Jerusalem, July 5, 2020. (Gali Tibbon/AP)

Ministers will discuss the status of the country’s enforcement of the regulations, as well as increasing fines and sanctions for those found violating restrictions.

The cabinet will also discuss the use of digital tools to combat the pandemic, as well as a focused campaign on the wearing of masks and maintaining social distancing.

Also in the works are talks about the education system and plans to return to school, as well as assistance programs to the elderly.

Meanwhile on Tuesday the Knesset was set to renew discussions on legislation banning large demonstrations and further restricting public prayer as part of the lockdown.

The Haaretz newspaper reported that the Blue and White party would likely support the legislation, so long as Netanyahu’s Likud pulls certain provisions it had added at the last moment Friday in an effort to make the limitations more stringent.

The law will prevent people from demonstrating over a kilometer from their homes.

Organizations demonstrating against the government said they were planning to send convoys of vehicles to Jerusalem on Tuesday to protest the legislation.

Demonstrations against the prime minister over his alleged corruption as well as his scathing attacks on the justice system have become a regular occurrence in recent months, with rallies held several times a week, and major events every Saturday.

People protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, on September 26, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But the protests have become a contentious issue as virus cases have grown, with the premier and others disparaging the mass gatherings amid fears of infection.

Israel had a total of 233,265 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic Monday night, with 66,566 active cases, 772 of them serious, and 290 in moderate condition. Of those in serious condition, 209 required ventilation, a new record high.

Due to the Yom Kippur holiday, test numbers were low Sunday, with some 25,000 carried out, compared to some 50,000-60,000 daily tests over the past week. But the percentage of positive virus tests remained on the rise, standing at 14.3% Monday.

Citing Health Ministry data, the Ynet news site reported that positive test rates were far higher in five largely ultra-Orthodox towns, standing at 32.53% over the past week in Beitar Illit, 31.27% in Elad, 27.91% in Bnei Brak, 26.42% in Modiin Illit and 23.04% in Beit Shemesh.

On Saturday, Netanyahu admitted that his government made mistakes in emerging from Israel’s first national lockdown earlier this year, as the Health Ministry reported over 8,000 new coronavirus cases on Friday — a new single-day record.

“Did we make mistakes in the past? Of course,” Netanyahu said in a Hebrew video released by his office. “The opening of event halls was too fast. Maybe the opening of the whole school system,” he said.

He also pointed a finger at experts whom he says counseled for opening the economy; the Knesset for overturning some government decisions; and the media for what he said was a contribution to public apathy by portraying the response to the pandemic as overblown.

Men with prayer shawls in Jerusalem on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, September 28, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A sweeping new lockdown took force at 2 p.m. on Friday, though lawmakers were unable to reach an agreement over planned restrictions on protests and public prayers.

Under the new rules, nearly all businesses are to be closed, with the exception of specific companies and factories designated as “essential” by the Defense Ministry’s National Emergency Authority, as well as grocery stores and food shops. Restaurants are permitted to operate on a home-delivery basis only.

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