Task force: Every 2 days at current infection rate will require day of lockdown

With Thursday’s new cases once again near 1,500, National Information and Knowledge Center says all signs indicate ‘we are at the start of third wave,’ calls for fresh restrictions

Jerusalemites wearing face masks walk in the city center on December 3, 2020 )(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Jerusalemites wearing face masks walk in the city center on December 3, 2020 )(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel continued to see a trend of rising coronavirus infections Friday, with the Health Ministry reporting 1,434 new cases diagnosed the previous day. The rate of positive tests stood at 2.3 percent, the same as on Wednesday.

Meanwhile the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center, operating under the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate in cooperation with the Health Ministry, said all signs indicate “we are at the start of a third wave.”

“There is a clear and consistent rise in the number of new confirmed cases — over 1,000 infections a day as a weekly average.”

It also noted “a rise in test positivity rate over the past two weeks.”

Furthermore, it said the number of new cases among those aged 60 and up was on the rise, which will likely lead to more serious cases.

The task force warned that “for every two days in which the current infection rate is maintained, a day of full lockdown will be required to restore things to the previous state.”

MK Yifat Shasha Biton (L) visits the coronavirus department at Ziv Medical Center in Safed, northern Israel, December 3, 2020 (David Cohen/FLASH90)

It recommended not only halting any further easing of restrictions, but to consider reinstating some limitations “to halt the upward trend and prevent the pandemic from getting out of control.”

According to the Health Ministry’s data, the total number of active cases in Israel stood at 11,761 Friday morning, out of a total of 341,544 cases since the pandemic began. The number of serious cases stood at 287, with the death toll at 2,891.

Nearly 65,000 tests were performed Thursday.

The government this week continued to roll back many of the rules that were in place during the second nationwide lockdown that began in mid-September, with high school students returning to class on Sunday, weeks after younger students did, and some malls allowed to reopen last week. Some museums also reopened Tuesday under a pilot program.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the acting head of the ministry’s public health services division, on Thursday said she hoped Israel could avoid a third nationwide lockdown.

People wearing face masks shop at the Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem on December 1, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In an interview with Kan news, Alroy-Preis noted that the number of cases has tripled in four weeks.

Her warning joined that of coronavirus czar Nachman Ash, who said Tuesday that Israel was in a “state of emergency” due to climbing infections.

On Wednesday, a report by the National Security Council’s coronavirus crisis center put the virus’s basic reproduction number — the average number of people each virus carrier infects — at 1.19 nationwide, nearly doubling in just over a month.

A basic reproduction number, also known as an R0, of over one indicates that the pandemic’s rate of spread in the population is growing. The Health Ministry had set an R0 of 0.8 as a prerequisite for emerging from a lockdown in the fall, and in late October it dipped to around 0.7 as a result of the restrictions, but has risen steadily since.

Thursday also saw widespread reports in Hebrew media that Israel may receive up to four million doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine by the end of this month — enough for two million people.

The Health Ministry was said to be preparing health maintenance organizations for the possibility of inoculating some 80,000 Israelis every day. Such a development could see up to a fifth of Israel’s population vaccinated by January — a far more optimistic projection than previously assumed.

A lab technician sorts blood samples for a COVID-19 vaccination study at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida, on August 13, 2020. (Chandan Khanna/AFP)

The vaccines may start arriving as early as next week, though they will still not be used as they have not yet received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, Channel 12 News reported.

Health officials have warned that vaccines are unlikely to provide a swift solution to the pandemic, and that ongoing restrictions on the public will likely remain for some time, as will the need for social distancing, mask-wearing and other safety practices.

On Wednesday morning, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said that officials were still weighing recommending a national curfew to stem family visits over Hanukkah and Christmas amid the continued rise in new coronavirus infections.

His remarks came after Alroy-Preis warned Israel was entering a third wave of coronavirus infections, and that rising infection rates would likely climb even further. Alroy-Preis said the infection figures were “very worrying.”

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