Over 8,000 infections recorded in all-time high as full lockdown takes effect

Health Ministry revises number of cases confirmed Thursday upward to 8,178; 250 yeshiva students contract virus after spending Rosh Hashanah together

People walk outside the Damascus Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem on September 25, 2020, amid a nationwide coronavirus lockdown. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People walk outside the Damascus Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem on September 25, 2020, amid a nationwide coronavirus lockdown. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Friday updated the number of new coronavirus cases recorded the previous day to a whopping 8,178, far surpassing the previous high, hours after stricter lockdown measures went into effect.

Figures released in the morning put the number of infections confirmed on Thursday at 7,527, but the processing of additional tests apparently led to 651 more cases being added to the total.

Since midnight Thursday, the Health Ministry said another 3,391 cases had been confirmed, bringing the number of infections since the pandemic began to 217,899.

The ministry also reported 11 more deaths midnight, raising the national toll to 1,412.

Of the 62,913 active cases, 708 people were in serious condition, 178 of them on ventilators. Another 253 were in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms.

The record number of diagnoses came after two consecutive days where the number of new infections neared 7,000. The ministry said a particularly high 12.6 percent of the tests that came back Thursday were positive. There were 64,878 tests carried out.

A worker from ‘Hevra Kadisha,’ Israel’s official Jewish burial society, prepares a body before a funeral procession at a special morgue for COVID-19 victims in Holon, September 23, 2020 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Meanwhile, a sweeping new lockdown took force at 2 p.m. on Friday, though lawmakers were unable to reach an agreement over possible restrictions on protests and public prayers.

Most of the proposed measures went into effect, but plans to limit demonstrations and prayers were not included as they fall outside the cabinet’s authority and had not yet received Knesset approval.

Hebrew-language media reports suggested that synagogues would in any case be closed for the Sabbath and on Yom Kippur would operate under the previous restrictions in place for the holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

Under the new rules, nearly all businesses will be closed, with the exception of specific companies and factories designated as “essential” by the Defense Ministry’s National Emergency Authority. Restaurants are permitted to operate on a home-delivery basis only.

Lawmakers in the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee discussing coronavirus rules in the pre-dawn hours of September 25, 2020. (screen capture: Knesset TV)

Israelis won’t be allowed to travel more than a kilometer (0.6 miles) from their homes, with the exception of specific activities that are exempted.

Police will be deployed on highways and at the entrances to cities and towns to ensure Israelis don’t attempt to travel during the lockdown.

In an interview with Channel 13 news, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein signaled the lockdown measures would likely be extended beyond the end of Sukkot on October 9.

“The public needs to be told the truth: We’re headed for a few weeks of lockdown, but in different conditions. Following the first two weeks of a ‘hard’ lockdown, in the hope that the numbers go down, slowly we’ll begin to loosen up,” he said.

“We won’t repeat the mistakes we made of immediately opening everything,” Edelstein added, referring to the easing of restrictions after the initial lockdown earlier this year.

The network meanwhile quoted an unnamed source saying the lockdown measures could remain in place for two months.

Also Friday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced he had submitted a request to the government that would allow for 1,000 more IDF soldiers to assist police in upholding the lockdown. Already, 1,000 soldiers have been enlisted as part of the effort.

According to the proposal, the soldiers will not be involved in enforcement measures against civilians, but instead will assist police in setting up roadblocks and other logistics.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured in a Friday statement that “the lockdown is not a punishment,” but rather a tool to protect Israelis.

The premier, who has faced allegations of gross mismanagement of the pandemic, said his “only goal is to save lives, the lives of the worshipers who on the Yom Kippur fast day say, ‘Our Father, Our King, withhold the plague from Your inheritance,’ and the lives of all Israeli citizens, supporters and opponents alike. They are all my children, they are all dear to me, and I want to save everyone’s lives.”

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man wearing a face mask during a nationwide three-week lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, swings a chicken over his head as part of the Kaparot ritual, in Bnei Brak, Israel, Thursday, Sept 24, 2020. (AP/Oded Balilty)

Separately Friday, the government’s coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu swatted back at criticism he has received from right-wing lawmakers over his objection to the widespread restrictions approved by the cabinet.

“Any politician who tries go after me, from the right and left or from behind, should remember that in the end they’re only damaging public trust in the government and not in Roni Gamzu,” he told Channel 12.

Gamzu also warned against the exploitation of apparent loopholes in government guidelines allowing for demonstrations to go forward while much else has been barred. Last week, police said large numbers of ultra-Orthodox Israelis registered for protests across the country that were merely a guise to travel home from their relatives after celebrating the Rosh Hashanah holiday.

“Everyone needs to internalize that it is not just the democratic act of protesting that we’re talking about, but it has been used for other purposes,” he said.

The Ynet news site reported Friday that some 250 yeshiva students had tested positive for the coronavirus after spending the Rosh Hashanah holiday together at a study hall belonging to the Gur Hasidic sect.

Officials in the sect told the news site that the 250 students had been part of a confined capsule with roughly 2,000 others and that they have remained in isolation since testing positive, thereby limiting the chances for an even larger outbreak.

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