459 new infections in 24 hours -- highest figure since April

Two cities partially locked down as virus case tally rockets upward

Ultra-Orthodox city of Elad, parts of Tiberias declared ‘restricted zones’; Netanyahu says lockdown to also be weighed in Bat Yam

Ultra-Orthodox Jews standing in line outside a supermarket in the central Israeli city of Elad, on April 7, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews standing in line outside a supermarket in the central Israeli city of Elad, on April 7, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The government imposed a partial lockdown on several neighborhoods Tuesday evening in a bid to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, as Health Ministry figures showed the number of new virus cases surged upward, with 459 new infections recorded in the previous 24 hours.

The figure marked the highest 24-hour tally since numbers began climbing late last month, following a brief respite from the coornavirus. The last time the number of virus cases passed 450 in a single day was April 15.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the ultra-Orthodox city of Elad and five predominantly ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in the northern city of Tiberias as “restricted zones,” his office said in a statement Tuesday evening.

The Tiberias neighborhoods are Ramat Tiberias Bet, Ramat Tiberias Gimmel, Neighborhood 200, Tiberias Illit and the Ben Gurion neighborhood.

The decision will prevent anyone who doesn’t live in the restricted zones from entering them, except to go to work or to go to a high school matriculation exam (Bagrut), the Health Ministry said. Residents of the areas declared restricted zones will not face any restrictions.

The decision goes into effect Wednesday at 8 a.m. for seven days.

The ministers were still debating whether to introduce similar restrictions in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv, amid a sharp rise of coronavirus infections there, according to Channel 12 news.

A military task force earlier on Tuesday warned of possible outbreaks in a number of areas, including Bat Yam, leading the town’s mayor to call for the beaches there to be closed again. There are particular concerns about the Bat Yam, which has a relatively older population in comparison with other outbreak areas.

In the statement, Netanyahu said the ministers would discuss whether to declare other areas “restricted zones” on Wednesday morning.

View of neighborhoods in the city of Tiberias on December 17, 2017. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Israel has seen the number of new COVID-19 cases climb sharply over the last two weeks, stoking fears of a second virus wave and leading the Health Ministry on Sunday to instruct hospitals around the country to prepare to reopen their coronavirus wards.

Data released by the National Security Council Tuesday evening brought the total confirmed cases to 21,467.

It recorded another fatality, bringing the death toll to 308. No details were immediately released on the latest death.

The data said 40 people were in serious condition, 27 of them on ventilators, and 49 were in moderate condition. There are 5,299 active COVID-19 cases in the country, it said.

It said 13,451 tests were conducted by 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The figures continued the upward trends of the past week, which has seen 200-300 cases a day on most days and a steady increase in the number of patients in serious condition.

According to the Health Ministry, Jerusalem — Israel’s largest city — has seen the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the past three days.

The capital had 90 new cases, followed by Bnei Brak (58), Ashdod (52), Tel Aviv-Jaffa (48), and Bat Yam (40).

Unlike the first wave, when most cases were concentrated in a number of cities, official figures show a much wider dispersal of virus cases, with 12 cities recording at least a dozen cases each since Sunday: Arara, Rahat, Elad, Or Yehuda, Beersheba, Beitar Illit, Petah Tikva, Holon, Haifa, Ramat Gan, Rehovot, and Kfar Saba.

A report by the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center also warned that Israel could see a doubling in the number of active coronavirus cases within a week.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told reporters during a tour of virus facilities in the center of the country that the government has no intention of announcing a “total lockdown.”

Like much of the rest of the world, Israel’s government has taken a more cautious approach to reimposing lockdowns and restrictions on movement since rolling back the rules last month. Instead it has concentrated on placing pinpoint limitations in acute outbreak areas, though it has also taken a softer approach to those, while shifting to increased enforcement of mask-wearing and hygiene guidelines.

Netanyahu indicated earlier in the day that the government would also consider renewing a controversial Shin Bet tracking program for virus carriers if rates continue to rise.

“If the rate of infection continues [to rise], we will expedite the process of bringing the digital means to the approval of the cabinet before Sunday,” the prime minister tweeted, apparently referring to the Shin Bet program.

The Shin Bet program — which used vast amounts of cellular phone and credit card data to track the movement of coronavirus patients and those in close contact with them — ended earlier this month, nearly three months after it began.

The program had been subject to Knesset oversight, but the Supreme Court ordered the government to craft a law — instead of a temporary emergency regulation — to give the Shin Bet permission to use these tools. Ministers decided to call off the program after having failed to write a bill legislating how it would operate.

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