PM resists new COVID restrictions, as number of ventilated patients rises

Rejecting further caps on gatherings, Bennett said to tell health officials that government policy is: ‘Not quarantines, lockdowns, more and more restrictions… but solutions’

A coronavirus ward at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on September 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A coronavirus ward at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on September 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Saturday reportedly pushed back against imposing new coronavirus restrictions, even as the number of COVID patients requiring ventilators climbed to levels not seen in Israel in months.

The number of COVID-19 patients being treated on ventilators continued to rise Saturday, as the number of patients in serious condition dropped slightly over the weekend, Health Ministry figures released Saturday night showed.

According to the Health Ministry, 221 people infected with the coronavirus were on ventilators, an increase of 18 from Friday morning’s 203 when Israel crossed the 200 mark for the first time since March.

The Health Ministry data also said there were 694 patients in serious condition, down from over 700 on Friday. Of those, 295 were listed as in critical condition.

While Israel’s fourth wave of infections has seen record numbers of daily cases, the number of patients needing hospitalization has remained lower than previous bouts, which experts attribute to the country’s high vaccination rates.

The death toll since the start of the pandemic rose Saturday night to 7,649. A total of 567 people have succumbed to the virus since the start of the month, making September the second consecutive month that Israel has recorded at least 500 deaths, after August saw 609 deaths attributed to COVID-19.

At the same time, ministry figures showed 4,937 new infections over the weekend, continuing a slow downward trend, with the number of active cases sinking slightly to 62,993.

A Magen David Adom volunteer takes a swab sample from an Israeli woman at a coronavirus testing site in the Golan Heights town of Katzrin, on September 15, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Amid the mixed numbers, government and health officials have appeared to feud over imposing additional coronavirus restrictions, with Bennett reportedly deciding against further limitations on gatherings.

Meeting Saturday night with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, coronavirus czar Salman Zarka, Health Ministry Director General Nachman Ash, and the directors of Israel’s health providers, Bennett reportedly said that proposed restrictions on gatherings would harm the economy and not reduce morbidity.

“The government policy is an open Israel alongside an unrelenting and sophisticated war against the virus. Not quarantines, lockdowns, more and more restrictions, which is the easiest thing to do, but solutions,” Bennett said, according to the Ynet news site.

“I think about the patients, everyone in the coronavirus ward is a heartache, but I also think about the economy, the education, the parents who have to work and the children who have to study,” he reportedly said.

Bennett was said to have told the heads of Israel’s HMOs that their focus must continue to be pushing the vaccinations.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks ahead of receiving his third COVID-19 vaccine shot at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, on August 20, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Tensions between health officials and cabinet members have reportedly risen in recent days, as the officials have warned of the need for further restrictions on the public, which the ministers have resisted.

During a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet last week, a government advisory panel reportedly urged ministers to reconsider their approach to the pandemic, calling for a policy putting greater emphasis on reducing serious morbidity and urging more limitations on gatherings.

But Hebrew University researchers also presented a study predicting the number of new cases will decline over the next 10 days, followed by a drop in serious cases as updated Green Pass rules mandating booster shots take effect next month.

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