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‘This is an emergency’: Top health official warns Israel is at start of 3rd wave

Sharon Alroy-Preis says rising coronavirus infections expected to climb further with easing of restrictions; Health Ministry chief pushes back, says situation not yet urgent

Healthcare workers take samples from Israelis at a mobile coronavirus testing station in the central city of Lod, on December 1, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Healthcare workers take samples from Israelis at a mobile coronavirus testing station in the central city of Lod, on December 1, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

A top Health Ministry official said Tuesday that Israel was entering a third wave of coronavirus infections, warning that rising infection rates would likely climb even further.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the acting head of the ministry’s public health services division, noted that over 1,200 new cases were recorded Monday for the first time since mid-October and that the average of new daily infections over the past week was 982. These figures are “very worrying,” she said.

“This rise does not include the opening of malls or the return of grades five and six, meaning there will be more rises. This is the start of the third wave,” Alroy-Preis said during a briefing.

“This is an emergency,” she said. “We are identifying more and more ‘orange’ cities [with moderate infection rates].”

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy, left, and Sharon Elroy-Preis, acting head of the public health services division, at a press conference about the coronavirus on October 8, 2020. (Eyal Basson/Health Ministry)

“This is exactly how the second wave started. Many of the sick are coming from red countries — it’s a serious vector,” she added, referring to countries with high infection rates.

She said officials are looking into the possibility of reopening isolation hotels for those returning from abroad.

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

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy, however, pushed back against those warnings.

“We’re not in an emergency situation at the moment,” Levy told Channel 12 news. “The rise in morbidity is likely to bring us there, perhaps even in big leaps, but we’re certainly not there yet.”

Levy also told the Kan public broadcaster he doesn’t think the government will, or necessarily can, ban travel to Turkey, after reports said the National Security Council was weighing such a move.

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

During the briefing, Alroy-Preis said health officials were not planning on attempting to impose a lockdown over the winter holidays, hours after Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said the ministry would push for a nightly curfew during Hannukah and Christmas.

“We’re on the verge of restrained steps — right now every sick person is infecting more than one other. It’s possible that limited measures can slow the advance of the disease, and we won’t need significant steps,” she said.

Alroy-Preis said although the main infection zones were in the Arab community, numbers were high in the general population as well.

The first patient enrolled in Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, May 4, 2020. (Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP, File)

She also advised against relying on a vaccine getting to Israel anytime soon.

“We’ll likely need to get through the winter with most Israelis not vaccinated,” she said.

According to the Health Ministry, 789 new cases had been confirmed as of Tuesday evening, after 1,244 were diagnosed the day before, bringing the number of infections since the pandemic began to 337,961.

The death toll stood at 2,877, with 12 fatalities since the morning.

Active cases further climbed to 10,707, with 264 in serious condition, including 84 on ventilators. Another 80 were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

Of the 43,201 tests performed so far on Tuesday, 1.8 percent came back positive, down slightly from recent days.

The renewed rise in infections comes as the government continues to roll back many of the restrictions that were in place during the second nationwide lockdown, with high school students returning to class on Sunday and some malls allowed to reopen last week.

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