Number of seriously ill virus patients surges as report points to excess deaths

Number of seriously ill virus patients surges as report points to excess deaths

While not explicitly attributing recent excess fatalities to COVID-19, Health Ministry says most of increase due to deaths among people above 65; record 551 in serious condition

A medical worker in the coronavirus ward of Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba on September 15, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
A medical worker in the coronavirus ward of Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba on September 15, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The number of coronavirus patients in serious condition rose above 550 for the first time Wednesday, as new figures appeared to underline Israel’s inability to pin down the pandemic days before the country is set to go back into lockdown.

Health Ministry figures released Wednesday evening showed that a record 5,494 infections had been recorded Tuesday, slightly lowering an earlier tally of 5,523 for the same time period announced Wednesday morning. Over 2,500 more cases were confirmed as of late Wednesday afternoon.

A high of 1,165 patients were in hospital, the ministry said, with a record 551 of them in serious condition. One-hundred-and-thirty-seven patients were being treated with ventilators. Over 45,000 cases are active.

The ministry raised the death toll to 1,163, up 16 from midnight.

A separate report released by the ministry Wednesday showed that deaths spiked above the perennial average in Israel in mid-July and early August, highlighting the so-called excess deaths blamed on the disease.

The Health Ministry report attributed the rise to a growing number of deaths among Israelis older than 65 and particularly among those over 75, age groups more vulnerable to COVID-19. It did not, however, explicitly say the increase was due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The reported covered the start of the year until August 15, with the Health Ministry saying the mortality rate has consistently been above the long-run average since the week beginning July 15.

A graph in the report showed that Israel usually suffers nine deaths per 100,000 residents a week in July and August, but this year the number grew as high as 10.5. Given Israel’s population of 9.2 million, the difference would account for an extra 138 deaths per week, approximately.

Over 350 deaths attributed to the coronavirus were recorded between July 15 and August 15, though the report indicates that the true toll of the pandemic may have been closer to 550 over that period.

Earlier this month, the Central Bureau of Statistics said there was no significant excess death from the start of the year through July, despite the coronavirus deaths.

The new Health Ministry report underlined the acceleration of the virus’s worst effects in Israel, with the number of new infections and deaths rising sharply in recent months.

A medical worker takes a swab sample at a coronavirus testing site at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on September 14, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The release of the report came as Oxford University researchers said Wednesday that Israel had a seven-day average of 463.37 infections per 1 million people, the highest in the world besides the Dutch overseas territory of Aruba.

Due to the recent surge in new cases, Israel now has the 11th highest number of cases per capita in the world since the start of the pandemic, according to the researchers.

A Bank of Canada report released Wednesday also placed Israel’s per capita infection rate as among the highest in the world, and ahead of some of the world’s most serious virus hotspots, such as the US, Brazil and India.

The statistics do not account for Israel’s radically smaller population, which can skew results, or testing rates, which have risen to above 40,000 a day recently.

The Oxford figures confirmed that Israel has a far lower per capita death rate compared to countries with a similar number of infections per 1 million people.

Various reasons have been given for the lower fatality rate, including Israel’s relatively young population and quality of the healthcare system.

Israelis sit at a cafe in Tel Aviv on September 16, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Amid the continued rise in infections and fatalities, the government on Sunday imposed a three-week lockdown for the High Holidays and Sukkot, beginning Friday at 2 p.m until October 9.

On Wednesday, ministers decided to close the education system starting Thursday, a day before the lockdown kicks in, after Tuesday’s record high for new daily cases. Ministers held a vote on the matter by phone.

The swift reopening of schools in May, after the first lockdown, was among the major factors blamed for the swift reversal of Israel’s initial success in fighting off the pandemic during the first wave of the virus.

The upcoming lockdown will limit non-essential movement to within 500 meters of the home and will include strict restrictions on business and leisure activity, among other measures to shut down public life.

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