Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday Israel was again in the midst of a “major outbreak” as the number of active coronavirus cases in Israel passed 10,000 for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Health Ministry said there were 10,060 active cases, including 566 recorded since midnight. The figure overtook the previous high of 9,808 active infections recorded on April 15.
Among the active cases, 77 people were in serious condition, of whom 27 were on ventilators. Another 69 people were in serious condition and the rest had mild symptoms or were asymptomatic.
Of the 28,055 people who have been infected since the outbreak began in Israel, 17,699 have recovered.
The ministry announced an additional fatality from the virus, bringing the national death toll to 326.
It also said 24,732 coronavirus tests were performed Thursday, during which 1,130 new cases were confirmed. Both those figures marked single-day records.
“We’re now dealing with a major outbreak of coronavirus in Israel,” Netanyahu wrote on Facebook. “At the start of the week we were with a figure of 450 infected and today we’re at nearly 1,000 infected a day.”
He said new restrictions that took effect Friday morning were necessary to contain the outbreak and called on Israelis to adhere to social-distancing guidelines, among them mandatory mask-wearing in public places.
“I know that wearing a mask irritates all of us in the Israeli heat of July, but there’s no choice,” the premier said.
The 70-year-old Netanyahu also called on Israelis to refrain from visiting their grandparents and relatives in high-risk groups.
“You can’t hug your grandfather and grandmother now and all of us must protect our parents and everyone in a risk group,” he said.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said that from a medical point of view Israel should be in lockdown again, but the government was also focused on the economic impact.
“It is very clear that if you look only at the medical side, I would have closed everything yesterday and put everyone in quarantine,” Edelstein told Channel 12.
“That’s not my way and not the way of the government. We are continuously trying to navigate between the elements, but we need the cooperation of the public, he said.
After the number of daily cases dropped to low double-digits in May following weeks of a nationwide lockdown, new infections surged in June in the wake of the reopening of the economy and schools, leading the government to roll back restrictions.
On Friday morning, renewed limitations on public gatherings came into effect, with most indoor events capped at 20 people, though synagogues, event halls, bars and clubs can have up to 50 people.
Netanyahu and Edelstein announced the renewed measures at a press conference on Thursday, in which the premier said “the virus is still here, in a big way.” The challenge is not simple and “the battle will take time,” he said.
The prime minister said he was concerned with keeping the economy going, but that this needed to be done with respect for the virus, comparing the necessary policy to “playing an accordion” — sometimes being opened and sometimes closed.
“We need to return to restrictive policies in order to flatten the curve,” he said.
Amid the rise in cases, police said they were stepping enforcement of distancing rules over the weekend and would launch an enforcement campaign focused on event halls.
Though it has limited gatherings, closed off highly infected areas, and reinstated the controversial Shin Bet security service surveillance of carriers, the government has previously refrained from reimposing a nationwide lockdown to stem the outbreak due to the economic damage such a step would cause.