The Health Ministry on Wednesday morning released new figures showing an overnight jump of 21 new serious COVID-19 cases.
The number of serious cases has been steadily increasing since the start of the current outbreak. Two weeks ago Israel had 45 serious coronavirus patients. On Thursday the number stood at 65, it then jumped to 86 on Tuesday evening, and leaped overnight to 107.
Part of the rise is explained by a change in doctors’ definitions, according to a top physician.
Galia Rahav of Sheba Medical Center said that part of the increase happened because some of her staff are using a lower bar than previously for classifying patients as serious.
There are currently 15 serious patients in Sheba, Israel’s largest hospital, and last week “around half of them would have been classed as moderate or mild,” Rahav, the hospital’s head of infectious diseases, told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.
However, there has been no change since Tuesday night in national policy, meaning the latest leap is a reflection of the recent surge in cases.
The Health Ministry also reported a new record in daily new infections, putting the number of total confirmed cases in Israel since the start of the pandemic at 32,714.
The ministry said 1,320 cases had been confirmed throughout Tuesday between 12 a.m. and 12 a.m.
The ministry also announced one new death since Tuesday night, bringing the toll to 343, an increase of five in 24 hours.
The number of active cases, which was below 2,000 in late May, swelled to 14,104, a new high.
The serious cases included 36 people on ventilators, two more than on Tuesday. Another 82 people were in moderate condition, with the rest suffering mild or no symptoms.
The ministry said 26,603 coronavirus tests were conducted on Tuesday, with five percent — a new high — returning with a positive result.
The last few weeks have seen the reversal of many of the gains made in the fight against the coronavirus in recent months. New daily virus cases, which had dropped to low double digits through most of May, have soared to over a thousand a day.
The current increase in weekly infections in Israel is one of the highest in the world, according to a chart published Monday afternoon by the Health Ministry.
Criticizing the authorities’ handling of the ongoing outbreak and describing a chaotic and ineffective approach to tackling the crisis, the director of public health in the Health Ministry, Prof. Siegal Sadetzki, announced her resignation on Tuesday. In a lengthy post on her Facebook page, she warned that “Israel is heading to a dangerous place.”
“To my regret, for a number of weeks now, the handling of the outbreak has lost direction,” she wrote. “Despite systematic and regular warnings in the various systems, and discussions in various forums, we watch with frustration as the hourglass of opportunities runs low. Against this backdrop, I have come to the conclusion that in the newly created conditions under which my professional opinion is not accepted — I can no longer help to effectively cope with the spread of the virus.”
The government on Monday passed a raft of restrictions to contain the renewed outbreak, including limiting restaurants and synagogues, reducing the number of passengers on public transportation, hiking fines for not wearing face masks and shutting down event halls, cultural venues, swimming pools, gyms, bars, and nightclubs.
Israel is “a step away from a full lockdown,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told cabinet members during a special meeting. While stopping short of shutting down the country like earlier this year, the new measures are a significant step back from May’s reopening of the economy.
In an attempt to streamline Israel’s response to the new outbreak, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein agreed on Tuesday afternoon to up cooperation on the coronavirus crisis between their ministries.
“There is a need for real cooperation,” Edelstein said during a visit to Home Front command headquarters.
Gantz had mounted a public push for his ministry to take over more operational aspects of dealing with the pandemic, amid widespread criticism of the Health Ministry’s handling of the crisis.
The push has angered Netanyahu, who reportedly stormed out of a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet last week after Gantz made his wishes public. The premier accused him of trying to play politics.
The army has already announced that it will assign soldiers to aid an overburdened quarantine hotline run by the Health Ministry, and has begun to reopen hotels to house people in isolation.
Gantz went into self-quarantine on Wednesday after coming into contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.