New virus cases dip slightly, as officials warn serious infections could surge

450 newly diagnosed with COVID-19 on Thursday; 39 in serious condition; government to weigh proposal to build vaccine production plant in Israel

People are seen with and without face masks in Jerusalem on July 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People are seen with and without face masks in Jerusalem on July 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The resurgence of COVID-19 in Israel appeared to taper off slightly on Friday, with new Health Ministry figures showing 450 new cases diagnosed the day before, after three days in which the daily caseload surpassed 500.

New Health Ministry data on Friday also showed that the number of serious cases had stabilized at 39, down by one from Wednesday, which was the highest number since May.

Earlier data published by the ministry Thursday said 37 patients were hospitalized with serious COVID-19 infections, down from 46 patients it had reported Thursday morning. In June, the number of serious cases reached an all-time low of 19.

The ministry said its data includes patients who are no longer infected with COVID but are still hospitalized in serious condition. It added that it checks its figures three times a day and is regularly in touch with hospital representatives.

Health officials have warned that without restrictions the number of serious cases will continue to rise, possibly reaching 300-400 within two months, the Walla news site reported Friday.

This came after the so-called coronavirus cabinet convened Wednesday and decided to not issue any new restrictions. Instead, it decided to monitor the number of active serious cases and their impact on hospitals, instead of the average daily virus count.

The unnamed Health Ministry sources told Walla that a nationwide lockdown would be the only option left for ministers to curb the pandemic if the country reaches 300 serious COVID-19 cases.

The reconstituted “coronavirus cabinet” meets at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, June 23, 2021. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

While the number of serious cases rose slightly, those who are on ventilators dropped from 19 last month to 12, according to Friday’s data.

Meanwhile, of the 71,261 tests performed Thursday, 0.7 percent came back positive, similar to the rate in recent days, but slightly higher than last month’s positivity rate, which hovered near zero on some days.

The three-day streak of over 500 cases ended Thursday when 450 virus cases were identified. An additional 93 people were confirmed infected as of Friday morning. Health officials have predicted the cases could jump to 1,000 this month.

There are 3,691 active virus cases in the country, the Health Ministry data showed, while the death toll rose to 6,434.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the country saw the first deaths attributed to the virus in over two weeks. In the past 30 days, just seven people have died as a result of COVID-19 complications, according to ministry data.

Under the ministry’s “traffic light” designation system for measuring the severity of morbidity in a given locale, the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and the central city of Kfar Yona became “red,” signifying the highest level of infection.

An Israeli teen receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at a Magen David Adim vaccination center in Jerusalem, July 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

On Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman will bring a plan for government authorization to form a team to examine the establishment of a vaccine production plant in Israel.

“The ability to produce vaccines in Israel would be dramatic, especially with a forward-looking view of future epidemics. Professional teams will examine this and make a decision soon,” said Bennett on Friday.

Ministry figures also showed that over 19,000 people received a coronavirus vaccine shot on Thursday, of whom more than 2,600 were getting their second dose. Out of Israel’s population of some 9.3 million, 5,712,644 people have gotten at least one shot and 5,189,094 have received two doses.

The resurgence of the virus has become a major issue for Bennett’s new government, coming less than two months after the numbers of cases had dwindled, allowing Israel to lift most restrictions and reopen public life.

Horowitz said Tuesday that Israel was trying to battle the virus while avoiding “panic” and keeping restrictions to a minimum to enable the continuation of near-normal life.

On Friday, the Health Ministry announced that all travelers, including those vaccinated, from countries deemed to have high rates of infection, would be required to enter quarantine. While those returning from all other countries would also need to enter self-isolation, but for just 24 hours, or until they receive a negative test result, which they would conduct upon landing.

The countries considered to have high infection rates as of Friday are: The United Arab Emirates, Seychelles, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Paraguay, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Kyrgyzstan, and Tunisia.

The resurgence of coronavirus in Israel has been largely attributed to the spread of the Delta variant, which was first detected in India and is believed to be twice as contagious as the original COVID strain.

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