Virus cases in Israel reach 14,882, with 193 fatalities and 107 on ventilators
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Virus cases in Israel reach 14,882, with 193 fatalities and 107 on ventilators

Health Ministry says 139 Israelis are in serious condition and 101 are in moderate condition; 5,685 have recovered from coronavirus

A Magen David Adom ambulance service medic, wearing protective gear, seen handling coronavirus tests from patients outside a hotel being used as a coronavirus quarantine facility, in Jerusalem on April 19, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A Magen David Adom ambulance service medic, wearing protective gear, seen handling coronavirus tests from patients outside a hotel being used as a coronavirus quarantine facility, in Jerusalem on April 19, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Friday said there were 14,882 confirmed coronavirus cases in the country, an increase of 79 from the previous evening.

In a statement, the ministry confirmed that the death toll is now 193, up by one since Thursday evening with the death of Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Heber whose kidney donation organization saved 800 people over the past decade.

The ministry figures showed 139 Israelis are in serious condition, of whom 107 are on ventilators, and 101 are in moderate condition. The remainder have mild or no symptoms.

In addition, 5,685 Israelis have recovered from COVID-19, a number which is included in the tally of total cases.

Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Heber, founder of the “Matnat Chaim” organization, at the courtroom of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on September 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Heber, 55, died Thursday of COVID-19 and was mourned by many senior public officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.

Heber, himself a recipient of a kidney donation, had been sedated and on a ventilator at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem for about two weeks. His condition worsened on April 14.

The kidney donation organization Heber founded, Matnat Chaim (Gift of Life), last week celebrated its 800th transplant over the past decade. Matnat Chaim facilitates voluntary kidney donations in Israel.

Blue and White MK Chili Tropper recently donated a kidney in a life-saving procedure for a man he did not know through Heber’s organization.

Tropper mourned Heber on Thursday, calling the rabbi one of Israel’s “heroes” who “dedicated his life to save lives, with infinite dedication, exceptional humility and love for humans that is hard to come by.”

“Many owe him their lives and Israeli society is better and more humane thanks to his life’s work,” Tropper said.

Screen capture from video of Blue and White MK Chili Tropper in hospital to donate a kidney, February 2, 2020. (Channel 12)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his “deep sorrow about the passing of the rabbi,” saying Heber “instilled in the general public the awareness of the importance of donation.”

“Thanks to him, hundreds of people in Israel were granted a new life,” Netanyahu said. “Rabbi Heber was a model of humanity, kindness and mutual responsibility.”

Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz said Heber “spread so much kindness and solidarity.”

“The parents, children, brothers and sisters that owe him the lives of their loved ones, and all of us who were impacted by the power of his giving to the community, are grieving tonight,” Gantz said.

President Reuven Rivlin also sent his condolences.

“The heart bleeds,” Rivlin tweeted, at the loss of “a man of pure kindness, who connected the whole of Israeli society.”

“The rabbi’s life work was outstanding,” he added. “Together with the many people he saved, and the entire nation, I want to send strength to the family and to believe that Heber’s ‘gift of life’ will continue to gift life after his passing as well.”

In 2017, police launched an investigation into Heber on suspicion of organ trafficking but closed the case without charge a year later.

Heber has been honored by the Health Ministry and Israeli hospitals for his work.

He was buried at 2 a.m. on Friday in Jerusalem’s Har Hamenuchot cemetery. Authorities had asked the public not to attend the funeral as coronavirus restrictions limit the number of attendees.

Magen David Adom medics wearing protective clothing evacuate a suspected coronavirus patient to the coronavirus unit at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem, April 20, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The Health Ministry and the Defense Ministry announced Thursday night that they had inked a deal with Israeli genealogy company MyHeritage to perform 10,000 coronavirus tests a day.

The ministries said in a joint statement that MyHeritage would set up a laboratory for testing using equipment from Chinese firm BGI. The Health Ministry previously signed a separate agreement with BGI to bring the equipment to Israel.

The agreement “gave considerable weight to the issues of information security and safeguarding the privacy and medical confidentiality of those checked,” the statement said.

The Health Ministry did not say how many tests it conducted on Thursday.

A Magen David Adom paramedic performs a coronavirus test on an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man at a mobile testing station, in Jerusalem’s Geula neighborhood, on April 20, 2020. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

On Wednesday the ministry said it had conducted 13,342 tests on Monday, up from the 12,281 it had initially declared, which had been a daily record. The ministry said 11,422 tests were taken on Tuesday, continuing a run of several consecutive days with at least 10,000 tests.

The number of new cases was down again Thursday after a jump of 556 new infections in a day announced on Wednesday night, which had indicated a worrying upward trend after new cases had previously appeared to have stabilized at around 250 a day.

Professor Sigal Sadetsky, the head of the Health Ministry’s Public Health Services, warned Wednesday that infections could swell in May if Israelis don’t heed social distancing measures as restrictions are gradually eased.

“I am concerned there will be a second wave of infection in May,” she told the Kan public broadcaster. “It’s impossible to ensure that people don’t get infected if they don’t observe social distancing.”

She stressed that unless the rules are kept, Israel could see a rise in infections and a backtracking to stricter lockdown measures.

The government has faced pressure to accelerate reopening the country amid severe economic damage caused by the lockdown, though officials have expressed fears that the virus could easily rebound and warned that restrictions could yet be put back in place.

In one indication of the fears, the cabinet voted Wednesday in favor of severely limiting commemorations and celebrations of Israel’s independence and memorial days next week, and of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

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