Pace of virus spread seen accelerating as case numbers mount

National Security Council figures show basic reproduction number nearing 1.2; death toll reaches 2,883

Israelis wear protectrive face masks in Tel Aviv on December 2, 2020. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Israelis wear protectrive face masks in Tel Aviv on December 2, 2020. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Figures released by health authorities Wednesday showed the rate of coronavirus spread quickening nationwide, as the number of infections and death toll from COVID-19 continued to mount.

A report by the National Security Council’s coronavirus crisis center put the virus’s basic reproduction number — the average number of people each virus carrier infects — at 1.19 nationwide, nearly doubling in just over a month.

A basic reproduction number, also known as an R0, of over 1 indicates that the pandemic’s rate of spread in the population is growing. The Health Ministry had set an R0 of 0.8 as a prerequisite for emerging from a lockdown in the fall, and in late October it dipped to around 0.7 as a result of the restrictions but has risen steadily since.

According to the report, infections were spreading slower in Arab majority and ultra-Orthodox areas, with reproduction values of 1.16 and 1.06, respectively, while the rest of the population had a R0 of 1.21.

Due to the way the value is calculated, the figure represents the situation in the country ten days ago, the INSC report said. However, the value is dependent on the number of cases diagnosed, which in turn depends on the volume of virus tests conducted, the report noted.

Several Arab-majority towns and cities have been classified as “red zones,” in recent weeks as case numbers have risen there.

A Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health worker tests the coronavirus at a health center in Rafah, a town in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 25, 2020. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The report came as health officials have increasingly warned that the country is heading for a third wave of infections.

On Tuesday there were 1,187 new virus cases diagnosed according to Health Ministry figures published Wednesday, pushing the number of active patients past 11,000 for the first time since October 30.

By Wednesday evening the death toll had climbed to 2,883.

There were 11,290 active patients in the country of which 284 are in serious condition, among them 81 on ventilators. Another 96 people are in moderate condition and the rest have light or no symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Of 63,048 virus test results returned Tuesday, 1.9% of them were positive.

However, according to the INSC report, the average number of virus tests returning positive over the past seven days has climbed to 2.25%, compared to just 1.84% in the week before.

On Wednesday morning, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said that officials were still weighing recommending a national curfew to stem family visits over Hanukkah and Christmas amid the continued rise in new coronavirus infections.

His remarks came the after Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the acting head of the ministry’s public health services division, warned Israel was entering a third wave of coronavirus infections, and that rising infection rates would likely climb even further.

Alroy-Preis said the infection figures were “very worrying.”

Her warning joined that of coronavirus czar Nachman Ash, who said earlier Tuesday that Israel was in a “state of emergency” due to climbing infections.

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy, however, pushed back against those warnings.

“We’re not in an emergency situation at the moment,” Levy told Channel 12. “The rise in morbidity is likely to bring us there, perhaps even in big leaps, but we’re certainly not there yet.”

The renewed rise in infections comes as the government continues to roll back many of the restrictions that were in place during the second nationwide lockdown, with high school students returning to class on Sunday and some malls allowed to reopen last week.

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