Virus cases reach daily high of 1,688 as Israel appears to slide toward lockdown

Government information center data shows lower death toll than an earlier Health Ministry tally; updated figures count 368 dead since start of pandemic, over 21,000 active cases

Border Police officers at a roadblock as ultra-Orthodox Jews gather for a protest against a lockdown in their neighborhood due to a coronavirus outbreak, in Jerusalem, on July 13, 2020 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Border Police officers at a roadblock as ultra-Orthodox Jews gather for a protest against a lockdown in their neighborhood due to a coronavirus outbreak, in Jerusalem, on July 13, 2020 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

An Israeli agency reported Tuesday morning that 1,688 coronavirus infections were diagnosed a day earlier, the highest number seen in any 24-hour period.

The figures from the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center, covering Monday until midnight, showed a total of 179 serious cases, and 364 total deaths.

The statistics appeared to contradict a Health Ministry update from 10:30 p.m. Monday night, which counted 365 dead and 183 serious cases.

A Tuesday morning update by the Health Ministry reported that there had been 1,681 cases on Monday, and raised the death toll to 368.

The discrepancies could not be immediately explained.

Figures released by the Health Ministry Tuesday morning showed that 42,235  cases had been confirmed in the country since the start of the pandemic as of 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, including 21,393 active cases. Fifty-five patients were on ventilators among a total of 177 patients listed in serious condition.

Last week Health Minister Yuli Edelstein was said to warn that the government could reimpose a full lockdown if the number of daily virus infections climbs to 2,000. The matter would require a ministerial vote and then Knesset approval.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein at a press conference about the coronavirus at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, July 6, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The new figures from Monday marked the highest confirmed case tally yet recorded in any 24-hour period, as the spread of the virus appeared to continue to ratchet up even as politicians moved to remove restrictions meant to prevent gatherings and stem the morbidity rate.

The number of serious cases has also begun to spike, jumping from a total of 151 reported by the Health Ministry on Sunday evening.

The number of patients in serious condition has prompted growing concern from authorities that the health system could be overwhelmed.

There were 26,233 coronavirus tests conducted on Monday, according to the information center, with a 6.5% positive rate, a percentage that has been steadily rising over recent weeks.

The report named Jerusalem, Beitar Illit, Lod, Ramle, Kiryat Malachi and Beit Shemesh as virus hotspots, but did not break down whether specific neighborhoods were seeing outbreaks.

With numbers continuing to rise, government officials were said to conclude there was no escaping a reimposed closure throughout the country, with Channel 13 quoting an unnamed senior official in the Health Ministry as saying Israel was “a step away from a full lockdown.”

An official was quoted telling the Israel Hayom daily that policy-makers were also predicting that the high holidays in September would likely bring with them a curfew similar to that imposed over the Passover holiday.

A woman exercises at the Mati gym club in the Malha neighborhood of Jerusalem on May 11, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

On Monday, a Knesset panel decided to overturn a government decision to shut  gyms and swimming pools, drawing anger and warnings of a full lockdown to come from some officials.

Recent weeks have seen the reversal of many of the earlier gains made in the fight against the coronavirus. The country had been placed on a nationwide lockdown for several weeks at the start of the outbreak in mid-March, but removed most of its restrictions by May to reopen the economy.

People in downtown Tel Aviv on July 13, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

To contain the surge in new cases, the government has reimposed some restrictions on gatherings and some on economic activity, and on Friday a number of lockdowns came into effect in neighborhoods in five towns and cities hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak.

However, the government has thus far shied from reimposing the same broad measures that shut down most of the economy and forced most Israelis to remain at home during the first wave of the virus, fearing irreversible damage to the already smarting economy.

Amid the rising number of cases, a team of experts from the Hebrew University on Sunday morning presented the government with a grim prediction that 100 more Israelis will die of the coronavirus by the end of July. They therefore recommended the reimposition of strict restrictions starting from next week, including a nationwide lockdown, if the rate of new infections does not slow down by then.

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