Virus cases surge, with 532 new infections in past day

Jump marks highest daily total in 2 months; experts warn Israel on cusp of ‘losing control’; positive test rate climbs to 2.6%; army opens more hotels for quarantine

Israelis wear protective face masks as they shop for food at the local market in Tzfat, northern Israel, June 24, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Israelis wear protective face masks as they shop for food at the local market in Tzfat, northern Israel, June 24, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Health Ministry reported a surge in new coronavirus cases late Wednesday night, with 532 new infections confirmed in the past 24 hours.

The jump in infections came as experts reportedly warned ministers the country was on the cusp of “losing control” over the renewed outbreak.

The number of new cases was the highest daily total in over two months, the Ynet news site reported.

The Health Ministry said 16,990 tests had been carried out on Wednesday, with a 2.6 percent positive rate. The figure was lower than Tuesday, when 19,533 tests were administered, the highest daily number, with a 2.3% infection rate.

Of the 5,796 active cases, 46 people were in serious condition, 28 of whom were on ventilators, an increase of one since Tuesday at midnight, the ministry said. Another 41 Israelis were in moderate condition and the rest had mild symptoms or were asymptomatic.

A total of 189 people were hospitalized due to the virus, and 15,940 had recovered.

There were no new fatalities Wednesday, with the death toll remaining at 308.

There were 39 new infections in Jerusalem, 34 in Ashdod, and 28 in Tel Aviv, Ynet said. Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and Tel Aviv have the most total infections.

A Magen David Adom worker arrives to test a patient with symptoms of coronavirus in Jerusalem on June 23, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The surge in cases has prompted health officials to forecast a sharp rise in the coming days, with as many as 1,000 new daily cases foreseen within just five days, according to Channel 13.

“We are on the verge of losing control,” health experts told the so-called coronavirus cabinet of senior ministers overseeing the government response to the pandemic.

Prof. Sigal Sadetzky, head of public health services in the Health Ministry, told Channel 12 that those involved in tracing the virus spread are “collapsing.” But she also expressed confidence that health officials could contain the virus without imposing another nationwide lockdown.

Sadetzky said she supported the government initiative to anchor in law and revive a surveillance project allowing the Shin Bet security service to track virus carriers and those exposed to them — despite the opposition of the agency to the move. The Knesset on Wednesday night advanced the bill to reinstate the Shin Bet surveillance.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday night ordered the IDF’s Home Front Command to open additional hotels for coronavirus patients and for quarantine purposes. The army is currently running six facilities for those infected and people who cannot adequately self-isolate at home.

The police also stepped up enforcement against Israelis who failed to wear masks, handing out 2,265 fines on Wednesday, compared to 1,951 on Tuesday. The government this week upped the fine from NIS 200 to NIS 500.

Israelis, wearing facemasks for fear of the coronavirus, shop for groceries at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem after it reopened according to the new government orders, June 16, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Wednesday’s virus numbers were released after a partial lockdown went into effect on Elad, an ultra-Orthodox town in central Israel, and parts of the northern city of Tiberias. They will remain in place for a week in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.

According to Ynet, the government has decided to shrink the size of Tiberias’s coronavirus restricted zone to just three streets, after initially placing the restrictions on five predominantly ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

Locals had complained the original decision was too wide and done with little regard for where outbreaks in the city actually were. According to the report, the closure will only apply to Shefa Haim, David Elazar and Zalman Shazar streets.

The government is expected to weigh additional restricted zones.

Ministers were still debating whether to introduce restrictions in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv, amid a sharp rise of coronavirus infections there, according to Channel 12 news. There are particular concerns about the beachfront city, which has a relatively older population in comparison with other outbreak areas.

The network reported Wednesday that a supermarket in the city, “Super Dosh,” appeared to be at the center of an outbreak with 20 diagnosed cases traced to it.

A military task force warned Wednesday that infection rates were “very high” in ultra-Orthodox communities in comparison to the rest of the country, with around 14% of all new infections this week diagnosed in just five locations. It pointed to the dense living conditions, difficulties in isolating patients and close connections between different communities around the country as contributing to the problem.

The task force named the predominantly ultra-Orthodox cities of Bnei Brak, Modiin Illit, Beitar Illit and Beit Shemesh as cities with concerning infection rates, as well as ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in the cities of Jerusalem, Ashdod, Netanya and Safed, along with Elad and the Tiberias neighborhoods that were locked down.

In addition, the southern town of Rahat and central city of Kfar Saba were both said to be showing fast rates of growth in the number of cases.

The sharp climb in the number of cases has stoked fears of a second virus wave and led the Health Ministry on Sunday to instruct hospitals around the country to prepare to reopen their coronavirus wards.

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