The outgoing director-general of the Health Ministry reportedly urged senior staff on Saturday to operate under the assumption that Israel is in the midst of a fresh coronavirus outbreak, while acknowledging the magnitude of this “second wave” is unknown.
Moshe Bar Siman-Tov issued the warning during one of his final meetings before he finishes his tenure at the Health Ministry on Sunday, according to Channel 12 news, which cited unnamed senior staff present at the sit-down.
However, the outgoing health chief subsequently denied making the comments and told the network a second wave is not inevitable “if we operate properly.”
“But we are in the midst of a rise in cases. It is definitive, real and tangible, and it will take time for us to understand its full extent,” Bar Siman-Tov added.
During Saturday’s meeting, the health chief also expressed concerns over scenes of crowded beaches across the country, urging his staff to raise public awareness of the dangers of ignoring ministry guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of the virus, according to the television report.
Bar Siman-Tov will be replaced by the director of Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center, Prof. Chezi Levy, whose appointment is awaiting final government approval.
Levy was new Health Minister Yuli Edelstein’s candidate to replace Bar Siman-Tov, who announced last month he would step down from the position.
The reported remarks by Bar Siman-Tov came hours after the Health Ministry said 144 new infections were recorded over the past day, the highest 24-hour virus case figure since the beginning of May.
One person died of COVID-19 since Friday evening, taking the national death toll to 292.
There have been 17,706 infections recorded in Israel since the start of the pandemic.
Among those currently sick, 29 were in serious condition, 23 of whom were on ventilators. Another 36 were in moderate condition and the rest had mild symptoms.
The Health Ministry also said 16,133 tests were performed Friday, which the Ynet news site said was the highest daily total of the pandemic so far.
Channel 13 news reported Saturday that the new cases included nine residents and staff members at the Ahuzat Eyal assisted living facility in the central city of Or Yehuda. At the height of the outbreak, the novel coronavirus spread quickly in nursing homes around the country, where it was responsible for around a third of the national death toll.
As the number of new cases rose Friday, the number of schools and daycares shuttered due to students and teachers contracting the virus rose to 92, up from 87 Thursday evening.
The ministry said 304 students and teachers have tested positive for COVID-19 during the fresh outbreak, with another 13,702 people in quarantine because of potential exposure to the virus.
The latest closures came two days after the government said it would leave schools open, but use targeted closures anywhere a coronavirus case is found to help stem the recent spike in infections. Though classes resumed after two months of closures, students and teachers are required to wear face masks and are supposed to keep to strict hygiene practices.
The Health Ministry, which has reportedly been pushing to reintroduce a nationwide closure of schools, says the rising number of infections among students is the primary factor in Israel’s recent spike in cases.
The jump in new cases came after the daily infection rate steadily dropped through much of May, with Israel easing restrictions on movement, economic activity and gatherings that were put in place to contain the virus.