Positive test rate drops to 4.9%; number of virus patients on ventilators rises

As ministers discuss strategy for lifting lockdown, Health Ministry says 3,112 people tested positive Monday; death toll climbs to 2,040

A hospital worker at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem takes a swab to test for the coronavirus on October 12, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A hospital worker at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem takes a swab to test for the coronavirus on October 12, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Health Ministry figures showed a further drop in the percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive on Tuesday, as ministers weighed whether infection rates have dropped enough to begin easing the nationwide lockdown.

Out of 28,803 tests performed since midnight, 1,424 people were found to have the coronavirus, a positive test rate of 4.9 percent, the lowest since July.

The ministry said 3,112 new cases were found Monday. The new infections brought the number of confirmed cases since the pandemic began to 296,215.

The Health Ministry also reported 14 more fatalities on Thursday, raising the national toll to 2,040, a day after the number of deaths in Israel passed 2,000.

Despite the continued drop in the positive test rate, there were 802 COVID-19 patients in serious condition, including a record 254 on ventilators. Another 264 people were in moderate condition and the rest had mild symptoms or none.

A medical worker in the coronavirus unit at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, on July 28, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Positivity daily test rates hovered at around 12%-13% over September and early October, at one point reaching a high of 15%, but have dropped sharply over the last week as a nationwide lockdown has appeared to be curbing the spread of the virus. A reduced number of tests, as was seen this week, would usually be expected to raise the positivity rate.

The reported threshold for the easing of restrictions is 2,000 new cases per day. Saturday and Sunday both saw drastically lower case tallies, 907 and 1,624 respectively, but those days also saw a significant fall-off in testing levels.

On Tuesday evening, the so-called coronavirus cabinet convened to decide on a strategy for exiting a nationwide lockdown that has been in place for nearly a month.

A woman walks past a closed store in Tel Aviv during a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, October 13, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Though ministers agreed to keep the current restrictions in place, they were at odds over how much longer.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz proposed extending the lockdown terms only until Friday, the Ynet website reported.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was said to be in favor of continuing the lockdown until Monday, warned that if it is lifted too soon “there will be outbreaks and [earlier] decisions [to apply the lockdown] will go down the drain.”

Netanyahu argued that the number of new infections has still not dropped to a target of just 2,000 cases each day.

Ahead of the meeting, Netanyahu’s office said a final decision on whether to allow small businesses without in-person customers, preschools and kindergartens to reopen next week was pushed off until Thursday.

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