The Health Ministry announced Wednesday that there were nearly 200 people in serious condition from COVID-19, with four further fatalities taking the national death toll from the pandemic to 375.
Ministry numbers also showed three hospitals with coronavirus wards at or beyond capacity, with two more hospitals nearing capacity as well.
The ministry figures showed a total of 195 serious cases, including 57 people on ventilators. The number of serious cases was the highest seen in Israel since the start of the pandemic.
During the first wave of the pandemic, the highest number of serious cases at any one time was 183, recorded on April 13.
There were 30,297 coronavirus tests carried out on Tuesday, the first time the country has reached the 30,000 daily test milestone.
The ministry figures Wednesday morning showed that 1,578 coronavirus infections were diagnosed in the previous 24 hours, bringing the number of cases confirmed since the start of the pandemic to 42,813, including 22,704 active cases.
The number of new infections was somewhat lower than the all-time high of 1,718 recorded over the previous 24-hour period from Monday night to Tuesday night.
The ministry said three hospitals in the country — Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem, the Shamir Medical Center in Be’er Yaakov and the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, Israel’s largest hospital — were now at or above capacity for COVID-19 patients.
Additionally, Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek and Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center were both at 82% capacity for treating people with the coronavirus.
National Security Council Head Meir Ben-Shabbat reportedly said Wednesday that the rapid increase in the number of seriously ill patients posed a threat to the health system.
“The disease is spreading rapidly, and the increase rate of critically ill patients can threaten the capabilities of the health system in a short time. Therefore we need the prime minister’s directive for the Treasury to increase the budget for additional manpower within the health system to be carried out immediately,” Ben-Shabbat said, according to Army Radio.
The mounting number of patients in serious condition has prompted growing concern from authorities that the health system could be overwhelmed.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared “major success” against the coronavirus in May, one of the parameters he set for the country to have fewer restrictions was the number of patients in serious condition remaining under 250.
Politicians appeared deadlocked on Tuesday over moves to impose fresh restrictions as the day saw the highest tally of cases in a 24-hour period, when a meeting between Netanyahu, medical experts, ministers and Health Ministry officials ended without any decision made on further steps.
During the meeting Health Minister Yuli Edelstein repeated his warning that if the current trend of rising infections continues, there will be no choice but to impose a full lockdown, Channel 12 news said. The matter would require a ministerial vote and then Knesset approval.
With no new decisions taken, a lockdown on the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit expired Wednesday morning after protests by residents, despite it still being considered a virus hotspot, along with parts of Jerusalem, Lod, Ramle, Kiryat Malachi and Beit Shemesh.
Channel 13 reported that a decision on whether to seek a new national lockdown could be made over the weekend.
Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay recommended that instead of enforcing a lockdown during the entire week, the government should consider only enacting a closure in the evenings and on weekends to limit the economic ramifications as much as possible.
Netanyahu reportedly ordered this to be examined as an option, and Ben-Shabbat said Wednesday that the matter was being looked at. The security chief additionally said there should be no change to the 14-day quarantine requirements for those entering Israel from abroad.
Ministers are set to meet later this week on imposing new restrictions, Army Radio reported.