Virus czar: Lockdown unlikely before Passover due to ‘significant’ drop in cases

Ash says that although ‘nothing is certain,’ the fall in transmission rate means a return to tight restrictions unlikely before holiday at the end of the month

Illustrative: Travelers sit for COVID testing at Ben Gurion Airport on March 8, 2021, upon their arrival from New York. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Illustrative: Travelers sit for COVID testing at Ben Gurion Airport on March 8, 2021, upon their arrival from New York. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said Wednesday that a falling transmission rate and “significant decrease” in new cases meant that he did not envisage any further lockdowns ahead of the Passover holiday.

“Yesterday there were 2,870 new cases and compared to last week this is a significant decrease,” Ash told Radio 103FM. “Also, there are 650 seriously ill patients at the moment, we have passed the [level of] 5 million vaccinated, and I estimate that the transmission rate has decreased.”

The Health Minister later Wednesday released updated figures showing there were in fact 3,055 new cases the previous day and 653 serious cases in hospitals.

Ash noted that although there was a high chance there will not be a further lockdown ahead of the holiday at the end of the month, “nothing is certain.”

Ash’s comments were backed up by Health Ministry Director Chezy Levy, who told the Ynet news site that he “hopes that we can loosen the restrictions on [the number of people] gathering so that families can celebrate with more people and celebrate Pesach properly.”

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash at the coronavirus department at Ziv hospital in Safed, northern Israel, December 24, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Levy clarified that there was no talk of a complete cancellation of restrictions, but that discussions would take place on the possibility of increasing the number of people permitted to gather.

The number of serious cases of COVID-19 in Israel and the transmission rate are both continuing to fall, Health Ministry data showed.

Data released Wednesday showed that the virus reproduction number dropped further, dipping to 0.899.

The calculation of the figure, which shows how many people each virus patient infects, represents the situation 10 days before the day it is published. A value below one shows that it is shrinking.

The figure, released nearly two weeks after the start of Purim, was a sign of hope that the mass gatherings held in some parts of the country during the holiday in defiance of regulations, hadn’t caused a spike in infections.

According to the Health Ministry on Wednesday morning, there were 653 people in serious condition, including 215 patients on ventilators and 250 people defined as critical.

The death toll stood at 5,936 since the start of the pandemic.

In total, 809,870 people in Israel have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. There are currently 38,577 active patients.

People sit outside a café in Jerusalem on March 9, 2021 (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

The positive test rate for the virus was 3.3 percent out of 94,783 carried out on Tuesday, with 3,055 new cases diagnosed. Just a month ago, the daily caseload of new infections was over 7,000.

So far 5,035,562 people have received the first dose of their vaccination, and 3,940,352 have had the second as well, ministry figures published Wednesday showed.

An Israeli receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot at a Leumit vaccination center in Tel Aviv, March 8, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The promising figures come as Israel embarks on the next exit phase from its third nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

Much of the economy reopened Sunday as the lockdown was further rolled back, including restaurants, cafes, school grades 7-10 in low- to medium-infection areas, event venues, attractions and hotels. Higher education institutions and religious seminaries were opened to vaccinated or recovered people and rules on gatherings and worship were relaxed.

The cabinet also decided to ease restrictions on international travel and sidelined a highly controversial committee that was deciding who could enter or leave the country while the airport remained largely shuttered.

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