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Netanyahu, Edelstein heartened by lower virus rates amid lockdown

As closure extended until Sunday, Israeli leaders say a few more days are needed to establish that infections are indeed falling

People wearing face masks walk in the Beit Hakerem neighborhood in Jerusalem on October 14, 2020, during a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People wearing face masks walk in the Beit Hakerem neighborhood in Jerusalem on October 14, 2020, during a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Wednesday expressed cautious optimism about the declining coronavirus rates, but said more time was needed under lockdown to ensure the pandemic was being brought under control.

“The lockdown steps were correct and important and there is reason for optimism,” said Netanyahu in a Facebook post. “The infection rates are declining considerably.”

The prime minister said experts have warned that the government must wait several more days “for additional data that will point to a further, conclusive and lasting drop in infection.”

“We’re getting there! But we still need several more days and therefore we decided to extend the lockdown until Sunday,” he said, referring to the government’s decision on Tuesday night, which was ratified by lawmakers on Wednesday.

People wearing face masks walk in the Beit Hakerem neighborhood in Jerusalem on October 14, 2020, during a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s comments were echoed by Edelstein.

“The figures are encouraging, but we must note that every day there are still some 3,000 cases being diagnosed while under lockdown,” said the health minister.

“This can be explained, unfortunately, by the fact that even in places that are permitted [to remain open], people aren’t following the rules,” he added.

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu on Wednesday urged Israelis to get tested for the virus. He also said the government was considering reducing the mandatory quarantine period, according to the Walla news site.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) taking a 15-minute coronavirus test, October 6, 2020. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

The so-called coronavirus cabinet is expected to meet Thursday to decide whether to reopen preschools and daycares and allow businesses that don’t see customers to operate from next week.

The rate of positive coronavirus test results is the lowest since July, the Health Ministry said Wednesday morning, with the daily number of new infections nearing the 2,000 mark, below which authorities have determined that the current lockdown measures can start to be eased.

The ministry said just 2,255 cases were confirmed throughout Tuesday, bringing the country’s total tally since the start of the pandemic to 297,274, of which 48,015 are active cases. Less than three weeks ago, daily infections were above 8,000.

According to the data, 41,536 test results came back Tuesday, 5.4 percent of which were positive. That figure hovered around 15% in late September and has since made a dramatic drop. It had been between 7% and 8% for the past week, as the nationwide lockdown appeared to curb the spread of the virus

However, some suspect that a partial explanation is that some ultra-Orthodox areas — where morbidity rates are higher — have started conducting fewer tests.

The death toll stood at 2,055, according to the ministry. The number of serious patients was at 808, including 240 on ventilators. Another 263 were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

A medical worker in the coronavirus unit at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, on July 28, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The reported threshold for the easing of restrictions is 2,000 new cases per day. Saturday and Sunday both saw drastically lower case tallies, 907 and 1,624 respectively, but those days also saw a significant fall-off in testing levels.

The so-called coronavirus cabinet unanimously voted Tuesday night to extend the ongoing lockdown until Sunday night, pushing off any decision to start easing the sweeping restrictions now in effect across the country.

The lockdown, Israel’s second since the pandemic began, started on September 18 and had been slated to end Wednesday.

The Health Ministry has a phased exit plan spanning four months that would see the country gradually return to normal activity, starting with increased freedom of movement and eventually reopening daycares, schools, synagogues, malls and other venues. The plan would only kick into gear when the national daily tally dips below 2,000 cases and the person-to-person spread is slowed.

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