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Transmission rate nears 1 as officials warn Purim parties could halt reopening

R-value shows virus spread nearly at point of expansion again; health minister implores Jerusalemites to ‘leave the parties until after the coronavirus’

Israeli police officers enforce the COVID-19 regulations in Tel Aviv on February 27, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israeli police officers enforce the COVID-19 regulations in Tel Aviv on February 27, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israel’s virus transmission rate has continued to rise and is extremely close to showing expanded spread, data released by a military taskforce showed on Sunday.

In its latest report, the Military Intelligence taskforce said Israel’s coronavirus transmission rate was once again nearing 1, standing at 0.99. The rate had dipped to a low of 0.8 earlier this month.

The basic reproduction number, or R-number, is the number of new cases stemming from each coronavirus infection, or the number of people who caught the virus from each infected person. Any number lower than 1 means the pandemic is slowing down, while a number above 1 means it is expanding. The figures are based on new case numbers from 10 days earlier due to the virus’s incubation period.

The Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center, operating under Military Intelligence and the Health Ministry, additionally said it expected rising infection numbers in the coming days.

People wearing costumes celebrate the holiday of Purim at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, February 26, 2021 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The report came after large sections of the economy were reopened last week and with the Purim festival being celebrated over the weekend with multiple violations of restrictions against mass gatherings.

On Friday, the taskforce recommended reassessing whether to continue plans to further ease restrictions from March 7. Israel last week eased many of its lockdown restrictions, opening stores and more schools, as well as recreational facilities for those vaccinated.

However, after multiple mass street parties were seen over the weekend, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein called Sunday on the public to avoid any gatherings.

“I seek to address the handful of people who are harming us all: Leave the parties until after the coronavirus. Give up the tisch this time. Instead of rejoicing with others, let us think of others,” Edelstein wrote on Twitter, using the Yiddish word for the large and festive Purim meal.

Police patrol the Mahane Yehuda market, as they enforce a night curfew during Purim, Jerusalem February 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said Sunday that there was “no doubt” that the street parties would cause an increase in morbidity and affect the continued opening of the economy.

“There will be thoughts as to whether the third stage of opening up the economy should be allowed or not. The parties will only add to this apprehension,” Ash told the Kan public broadcaster.

Police set up checkpoints around Jerusalem on Saturday night to prevent revelers from traveling to the city for the final day of Purim celebrations, which are barred under coronavirus lockdown restrictions. Authorities also halted all public transportation to and from Jerusalem from Saturday night until Sunday night on the third night of a nationwide curfew to prevent gatherings during the holiday.

Police at a temporary roadblock set up at the Hemed Junction, outside of Jerusalem, during the Purim holiday, in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus, February 28, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Shushan Purim celebrations, held this year on Sunday, mark the final day of the festive holiday and are traditionally celebrated in walled cities such as Jerusalem and Safed.

Authorities are particularly concerned about gatherings slated to take place throughout ultra-Orthodox communities, which have been virus hotspots all year, with many repeatedly flaunting government guidelines.

Ultra-Orthodox men and children, some wearing costumes read the Book of Esther, which tells the story of the Jewish festival of Purim, at a synagogue in Bnei Brak, Israel, Feb 26, 2021 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The Health Ministry on Sunday said that 3,690 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 on Saturday and an additional 1,429 people since midnight, taking the total number of cases in Israel to 774,479. The number of active patients in Israel now stands at 40,108.

Saturday’s results, which came from just 24,291 tests, represented a positive infection rate of 6 percent.

The number of serious cases on Sunday stood at 776, the lowest recorded number since the beginning of the year, after it climbed to an all-time high of 1,201 in mid-January.

The death toll stood Sunday morning at 5,738.

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