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New virus infections top 1,000 for 3rd straight day; outbreak at Dead Sea hotel

Health Ministry orders suspension of operations at Isrotel hotel after 10 employees test positive for COVID-19

People wearing face masks shop at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on November 27, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People wearing face masks shop at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on November 27, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Saturday evening said 1,027 new coronavirus cases were confirmed the previous day — in a further sign that the spread of the virus in Israel was accelerating.

It was the third straight day that new daily infections topped 1,000, after remaining below that milestone for over a month.

With another 315 cases recorded as of Saturday afternoon, the number of infections since the pandemic began stood at 334,626, of which 9,924 were active cases.

The death toll rose by six to 2,845.

According to the ministry, there were 276 people in serious condition, with 107 on ventilators. Another 75 people were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

Of the 47,402 tests performed Friday, 2.2 percent came back positive. So far on Saturday, 8,938 tests were conducted, 3.5% of which were positive.

Top health officials have warned of rising morbidity, even as the government pushes on with rolling back lockdown restrictions.

Health care workers take virus test samples at a testing site near Eilat, on November 19, 2020. (Flash90)

Also Saturday, 10 employees at the Isrotel Dead Sea hotel were confirmed to have the coronavirus.

The Health Ministry said the 10 kitchen and service workers were asymptomatic and were tested as part of a sample test program for employees at hotels in the area. Contract tracers were speaking with the workers, and employees at the hotel were tested over the past day and will be tested again in the coming days, according to the ministry.

Hotels in Eilat and the Dead Sea were allowed to reopen earlier this month after legislation was passed designating them as “special tourist islands,” with tourists required to present a negative coronavirus result from no more than 72 hours prior to their entry to those areas.

“During a meeting held by the Health Ministry director-general, it was decided to suspend the operations of Isrotel Dead Sea Hotel until the completion of the required tests,” a ministry statement said.

Anyone who stayed at the hotel since November 22 was urged to be tested for coronavirus.

Isrotel said the hotel would reopen Monday after a “complete and thorough disinfection” and that new workers would be brought in, after they are tested.

Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen denied the positive test results showed the “island” scheme was flawed.

“Just the opposite.” she wrote on Twitter. “It shows that the mechanism is supervised and managed thanks to the frequent testing and inspection. All the hotel workers have already been tested and the hotel is disinfected.”

Hotels along the shore of the Dead Sea (photo credit: Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)
Hotels at Ein Bokek, along the shore of the Dead Sea. (Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)

Separately, new coronavirus czar Nachman Ash on Saturday visited the northern towns of Nazareth and Yafa an-Naseriyye, both of which have recently seen a surge in infections.

“Our goal is that the Nazareth area will be green for the [Christian] holidays,” he said in a video statement, referring to the Health Ministry’s color coding for localities with low infection rates.

His visit came as localized lockdown measures in Yafa an-Naseriyye and Umm al-Fahm took effect, after their approval by ministers on Friday.

Ash also addressed Friday’s reopening of 15 malls around the country as part of a plan to evaluate their compliance with social-distancing guidelines. The openings drew large crowds of shoppers who waited in line to enter stores.

People shop at the Ayalon Mall in Ramat Gan after it reopened, November 27, 2020 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“What we saw yesterday in the pictures is very grave and could lead to infection,” Ash said. “I hope we won’t have to shutter this pilot because of these pictures.”

He called on mall operators “to act responsibly” and prevent crowding.

The comments came after Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Friday that he had instructed Ash and Chezy Levy, the director-general of the Health Ministry, to meet Saturday evening after the “serious crowding at malls… and in light of the rising morbidity figures.”

The officials will present him with their conclusions at the start of the week and Edelstein will then formulate his position, the statement added.

“I’m really worried this is another issue that could increase morbidity,” Levy said in an interview with Kan news Friday. “We’ll have to think about whether to continue the pilot and how.”

Malls have been closed — except for certain essential stores within them, such as pharmacies or food sellers — since mid-September under lockdown rules. Street-front stores were allowed to reopen earlier this month, with a cap on the number of customers, which was raised from four to 10 on Wednesday.

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