The Health Ministry said Sunday evening that more than 57 people had died of COVID-19 since the previous night, bringing the total since the start of January to 1,055 — the highest monthly toll since the pandemic reached Israel last year.
With the additional fatalities, the death toll since the start of the outbreak reached 4,419.
The ministry said 2,401 news virus cases were identified Saturday, eight percent of the just 30,888 tests conducted — testing numbers tend to go down over the weekend. Another 2,401 were confirmed between midnight and 10:15 p.m. Sunday.
The total cases since the pandemic began reached 597,403, including 69,516 active cases — a drop of more than 6,000 active cases since Saturday.
Of those, 1,149 had serious symptoms, including 411 in critical condition, and 333 on ventilators.
The grim statistics came as the country prepared to take drastic action to block virus mutations reaching the country from abroad, with the government deciding to shut down all commercial flights in and out of Ben Gurion Airport, Israel’s main international airport.
International travelers have been identified as a prime source of infections in the county.
An Israeli man who returned from Dubai after contracting COVID-19 infected no fewer than 180 people, according to a Channel 12 news report Sunday
A mutated strain of the virus first detected in Britain was blamed for a recent spike in infection numbers that has since been partially tamped down amid a national lockdown and a racing mass immunization drive.
Another strain from South Africa and Brazil also made its way into the country and a third variation, which has rampaged through California, has now also been found in Israel, the Health Ministry said.
A man returning from Los Angles apparently infected four other people in Israel, the ministry said, adding that it was looking into the matter.
Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health at the Health Ministry, told Channel 13 news, “We are checking how dangerous it is.”
The Health Ministry reported Sunday that five more cases of the South African coronavirus variant were found among travelers from South Africa and Dubai. The ministry said 27 total cases of the strain have been detected in Israel.
So far, 1,081,099 Israelis have received both of the two-shot vaccine doses and 2,570,622 have received just the first dose. Just over 92,000 vaccine shots were given out Saturday, the slowest day in the week, while on Sunday more than 150,000 shots were administered.
Last week saw record vaccination numbers break through the 220,000 daily mark. The government hopes to have vaccinated all those eligible over the age of 16 by the end of March.
It is still not entirely clear how well the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination Israel is using works against the new strains, though experts say they are likely to be effective.
According to two preliminary studies released last Wednesday, the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine appears to be effective against the new, more infectious coronavirus variant that was first detected in Britain and has since been found in dozens of countries. The strain, known as B.1.1.7, has caused alarm among experts because of its increased ability to spread and supercharge virus outbreaks.
Sunday’s decision to close Ben Gurion came following months in which the government’s entry policy had been criticized as too lax and been blamed for many COVID-19 cases being imported.