Ministers said set to discuss reopening daycares and skies

Positivity rate of virus testing drops to lowest in month; death toll hits 1,956

Low number of tests – 13,387 – administered, with 7.3% of them positive; Knesset virus panel head says restrictions that have ‘no epidemiological logic’ should be lifted right away

A paramedic with Israel's Magen David Adom medical services speaks with a driver at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing center in Jerusalem on October 7, 2020 (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
A paramedic with Israel's Magen David Adom medical services speaks with a driver at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing center in Jerusalem on October 7, 2020 (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

The Health Ministry announced on Sunday morning that the number of daily coronavirus tests plummeted a day earlier, with the positivity rate dropping to its lowest level in a month.

Testing numbers and new cases often fall off considerably on weekends and on holidays — there were 887 infections diagnosed on Saturday and just 13,387 tests carried out with a positivity rate of 7.3 percent. Testing levels reached a record high last month of 50,000-60,000 tests on some days, but have dramatically declined since.

Positivity rates had hovered at around 12%-13% in recent weeks, at one point reaching a high of 15%.

Officials have noted that reduced numbers of tests usually raises the positivity rate, while the figure in recent days has been declining.

Hospital workers in protective gear are seen in the coronavirus ward at Ziv Medical Center in the northern city of Safed on October 7, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

While that suggests the tightened nationwide lockdown could be tamping down infections, the IDF’s Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center said the positive test and infection rates were still relatively high.

On Sunday morning the national case count since the start of the pandemic stood at 290,003, of which 62,133 were active cases.

There were 825 people in serious condition, 214 of them on ventilators, and 300 patients were moderately ill.

The death toll rose to 1,956 by early Sunday afternoon.

Israel has been under a national lockdown for the past three weeks to contain a raging second wave of the pandemic, which at one point reached some 9,000 daily cases. However, recent days have seen both the number of daily cases and the percentage of positive tests go down amid sweeping restrictions on the public.

A report on Saturday said the Health Ministry’s plan to gradually ease the national coronavirus lockdown will last at least four months and depend on ever-decreasing daily case numbers.

The plan cited by Channel 12 proposes target dates for the different stages of lifting restrictions, but any easing of the limitations could be pushed off if the infection rate hasn’t dropped enough. Most aspects of the plan have previously been reported as well by other news outlets.

However, Knesset Coronavirus Committee head Yifat Shasha-Biton, a vocal critic of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic who has reversed some decisions made by the cabinet, on Sunday told Army Radio that the lockdown should begin to be lifted immediately.

Yifat Shasha-Biton at a Housing Ministry ceremony in Jerusalem on May 18, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“We need it to be now, not in a week. There are restrictions that everyone knows have no epidemiological logic, so why wait? Society is getting crushed,” she said.

Last month as Israel entered its second national lockdown, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged that his government reopened parts of the economy too quickly after the first lockdown.

However, the coalition has been accused of shuttering small businesses to justify imposing emergency regulations that grant the government authority to limit protests against the prime minister, as well as preventing some activities, such as going to the beach, to justify the shuttering of synagogues.

A man protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during Simchat Torah celebrations in Tel Aviv on October 10, 2020 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Shasha-Biton also said that the exit from the lockdown and the regulations for the pandemic must be set at a local, and not national level, dependent on infection rates.

“We need to talk about outbreaks — not in terms of communities, but in terms of areas. They did not do it [previously] for a lot of considerations, some of them political, and we need to return to differential treatment,” Shasha-Biton said.

The exit plan from the second lockdown involves the so-called traffic light program, which divides towns into red, orange and green according to the severity of the outbreak they were experiencing. Officials have said different locales could see different timelines according to infection rates. However, the system collapsed earlier in the year when the ultra-Orthodox public said it was being singled out.

People wearing face masks walk through the largely shuttered Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem on October 7, 2020, (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Kan public broadcaster said ministers were set to meet on Sunday to discuss the possible reopening of kindergartens and daycares, as well as fully reopening the skies, as soon as next week.

Netanyahu will hold the talks with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Finance Minister Israel Katz, Science Minister Izhar Shay and coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu, the report said.

The Health Ministry is expected to support the opening of daycares on October 18 if the infection rate continues to drop and if staff undergo serological testing.

Gamzu has said that he would only support opening childcare facilities when the number of new daily infections drops to 2,000, a figure he said on Saturday he expected to see this week.

However, he warned in an interview with Channel 12 Friday that there may be a spike in cases in the coming weeks as a result of those who violated health guidelines against crowding over the Sukkot holiday, which ended Saturday night.

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