Number of confirmed virus cases in Israel jumps to 677

6 in serious condition, 13 listed as moderate; Netanyahu says testing to be ramped up to 3,000 per day by Sunday

Technicians carry out a diagnostic test for coronavirus at a lab in central Israel. (Flash90)
Technicians carry out a diagnostic test for coronavirus at a lab in central Israel. (Flash90)

The number of Israelis diagnosed with coronavirus jumped to 677 Thursday evening, the Health Ministry said, the sharp rise was at least partially attributable to increased testing throughout the country.

Six of the patients are in serious condition, 13 are in moderate condition, and the rest are showing mild symptoms; 14 people have recovered from the disease caused by the coronavirus.

In recent days the Health Ministry has boosted testing for the virus from some 500-700 tests a day to around 2,200 per day and Netanyahu said the number of tests would increase to 3,000 per day by Sunday and 5,000 per day by the following week.

Overnight, the Mossad spy agency reportedly brought some 100,000 coronavirus test kits into the country, amid claims of insufficient medical equipment in hospitals and clinics. But Itamar Grotto, the deputy director-general of the Health Ministry, said the kits did not contain the equipment medical officials were most in need of — swabs.

Workers prepare a new ward at the Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv, for people infected with novel coronavirus, March 19, 2020. Flash90

Israeli officials are hoping that strict measures limiting movement will help stem the virus’ spread before it gets worse, but authorities have said Israel may soon see cases in the thousands and its first deaths from the pathogen.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Thursday night that Health Ministry guidelines introduced on Tuesday — notably including the requirement for Israelis to generally stay at home — will be tightened and enforced under emergency regulations to be in effect for the next seven days.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement on the coronavirus at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The government will approve tonight emergency regulations to limit movement. You are ordered to stay at home… This isn’t a request, this isn’t a recommendation, but a binding requirement that will be enforced. The purpose of these instructions is to ensure as few people will be infected and will infect [others],” Netanyahu said.

“This is a step unlike any since the founding of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said, adding that Israel has never faced anything like the coronavirus.”

The steps taken so far have slowed the spread of the virus, “but the pandemic continues to spread,” the prime minister continued. “In Israel… the numbers of those who are sick is growing daily. Nobody has died, but that unfortunately is not likely to continue…there are likely to be many victims.”

Israel has already ordered all leisure and recreation sites closed, along with schools, universities and kindergartens. Many places of work have also been instructed to have employees work from home where possible, or put them on leave.

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