Health Ministry: Virus cases rise to 14,803, with 192 deaths

Prominent rabbi who founded kidney donation organization dies of COVID-19

Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Heber, 55, helped 800 patients get a transplant over past decade; ‘Many owe him their lives,’ mourns MK who recently donated through his initiative

Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Heber, founder of the "Matnat Chaim" organization, at the courtroom of the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on September 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Heber, founder of the "Matnat Chaim" organization, at the courtroom of the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on September 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Heber, who founded a kidney donation organization, died Thursday of COVID-19. He was 55.

Heber, himself a recipient of a kidney donation, had been sedated and on a ventilator at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem for about two weeks. His condition worsened on April 14.

The kidney donation organization Heber founded, Matnat Chaim (Gift of Life), last week celebrated its 800th transplant over the past decade. Matnat Chaim facilitates voluntary kidney donations in Israel.

Blue and White MK Chili Tropper recently donated a kidney in a life-saving procedure for a man he did not know through Heber’s organization.

Tropper mourned Heber on Thursday, calling the rabbi one of Israel’s “heroes” who “dedicated his life to save lives, with infinite dedication, exceptional humility and love for humans that is hard to come by.”

“Many owe him their lives and Israeli society is better and more humane thanks to his life’s work,” Tropper said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “expressed his deep sorrow about the passing” of the rabbi, saying Heber “instilled in the general public the awareness of the importance of donation.”

“Thanks to him, hundreds of people in Israel were granted a new life,” Netanyahu said. “Rabbi Heber was a model of humanity, kindness and mutual responsibility.”

Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz said Heber “spread so much kindness and solidarity.”

“The parents, children, brothers and sisters that owe him the lives of their loved ones, and all of us who were impacted by the power of his giving to the community, are grieving tonight,” Gantz said.

In 2017, police launched an investigation into Heber on suspicion of organ trafficking but closed the case without charge a year later.

Heber has been honored by the Health Ministry and Israeli hospitals for his work.

He was buried at 2 a.m. on Friday in Jerusalem’s Har Hamenuchot cemetery. Authorities had asked the public not to attend the funeral as coronavirus restrictions limit the number of attendees.

Magen David Adom medics wearing protective clothing evacuate a suspected coronavirus patient to the coronavirus unit at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem, April 20, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Thursday evening said the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel rose to 14,803, an increase of 305 in 24 hours.

The death toll rose to 192, one more than the morning’s tally.

According to the figures, there were 139 people in serious condition, 109 of them on ventilators. Another 102 were in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms.

So far, 5,611 Israelis have recovered from COVID-19, a number which is included in the total tally of confirmed infections.

The Health Ministry and the Defense Ministry announced Thursday night that they had inked a deal with Israeli genealogy company MyHeritage to perform 10,000 coronavirus tests a day.

The ministries said in a joint statement that MyHeritage would set up a laboratory for testing using equipment from Chinese firm BGI. The Health Ministry previously signed a separate agreement with BGI to bring the equipment to Israel.

The agreement “gave considerable weight to the issues of information security and safeguarding the privacy and medical confidentiality of those checked,” the statement said.

The Health Ministry did not say how many tests it conducted on Thursday.

A Magen David Adom paramedic performs a coronavirus test on an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man at a mobile testing station, in Jerusalem’s Geula neighborhood, on April 20, 2020. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

On Wednesday the ministry said it had conducted 13,342 tests on Monday, up from the 12,281 it had initially declared, which had been a daily record. The ministry said 11,422 tests were taken on Tuesday, continuing a run of several consecutive days with at least 10,000 tests.

The number of new cases was down again Thursday after a jump of 556 new infections in a day announced on Wednesday night, which had indicated a worrying upward trend after new cases had previously appeared to have stabilized at around 250 a day.

Professor Sigal Sadetsky, the head of the Health Ministry’s Public Health Services, warned Wednesday that infections could swell in May if Israelis don’t heed social distancing measures as restrictions are gradually eased.

“I am concerned there will be a second wave of infection in May,” she told the Kan public broadcaster. “It’s impossible to ensure that people don’t get infected if they don’t observe social distancing.”

She stressed that unless the rules are kept, Israel could see a rise in infections and a backtracking to stricter lockdown measures.

The government has faced pressure to accelerate reopening the country amid severe economic damage caused by the lockdown, though officials have expressed fears that the virus could easily rebound and warned that restrictions could yet be put back in place.

In one indication of the fears, the cabinet voted Wednesday in favor of severely limiting commemorations and celebrations of Israel’s independence and memorial days next week, and of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

A cabinet meeting to discuss easing restrictions that was scheduled for Thursday night was postponed until 8 a.m. on Friday due to a delay in getting information materials and legal opinions, the Ynet news site reported.

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