Virus death toll hits 612 as latest rules set to go into effect

Virus death toll hits 612 as latest rules set to go into effect

Much of public entertainment remains closed, but outdoor performances set to resume; hospitals see sudden drop in crowdedness as officials say they’ve changed calculation method

Jerusalemites wearing face masks for fear of coronavirus walk and shop at Mamilla Mall near Jerusalem's Old City on August 10, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Jerusalemites wearing face masks for fear of coronavirus walk and shop at Mamilla Mall near Jerusalem's Old City on August 10, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry announced 10 more deaths from the coronavirus on Monday evening, bringing Israel’s toll since the start of the pandemic to 612.

In all, 84,381 Israelis have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic reached the country in February, meaning over 1,700 new cases were diagnosed in the last 24 hours, despite lower testing numbers Sunday.

Of those sick, 388 people are in serious condition, including 112 on ventilators.

Though the number of people hospitalized has risen above 800, hospitals which were once considered over capacity now reported being under capacity, which the Health Ministry said reflected a change in the way it defined capacity, though it did not give clear details on the matter.

Late last week, the Health Ministry said that Israel’s hospitals were struggling to keep up with the infection rate. Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center was Israel’s most overwhelmed hospital, rising on Thursday evening to 202% of standard capacity in its coronavirus ward and to 204% on Friday.

On Monday evening that number dropped to 93%.

Four other hospitals, including Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek, had been at 100% capacity or higher, but on Monday dropped to some 85%.

A medical team at the coronavirus unit at Ichilov hospital, Tel Aviv, Israel, May 4, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The ministry said in a short statement its numbers now reflected “the total number of patients divided by the number of beds in each department,” but it did not explain what the previous calculation had been or why the change had caused such a drastic shift.

On Sunday, cabinet ministers approved new coronavirus restrictions and extended existing ones.

But the government also announced a new framework for reopening theaters, symphonies and cultural events. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this framework, with outdoor venues divided into “capsules” for up to 20 people each, would be instituted immediately, and that a format for indoor events would be “formulated in the coming weeks.”

Many of the restrictions reaffirm existing rules already in place under special emergency powers. But those rules expire Tuesday.

The fresh restrictions, which go into effect Tuesday, continue to cap gatherings at 20 people outdoors and 10 indoors, limit cars to three passengers at a time, and limit businesses to one customer on the premises for every seven square meters (75 square feet) of space.

Businesses will be prohibited from serving customers who are not wearing masks, must take the temperature of those who ask to enter the premises, and must post signs detailing appropriate behavior.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews wait to cross a closed road as they wear protective face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus in Ashdod, Israel, July 2, 2020 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Shared eating spaces in open-air markets and in shopping malls will be closed. Deliveries must be left outside recipients’ doors.

The new restrictions offer bad news for many business owners, extending the closures of bars, nightclubs, water parks, event halls and other recreational sites.

The cabinet decision also gave Health Ministry district doctors the power to order a business closed if a coronavirus carrier is confirmed to have been on site.

Prof. Ronni Gamzu (Flash90)

The government’s coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu said Thursday that Israel’s coronavirus infection rates were the highest in the world relative to population size, and warned that the country could face another nationwide lockdown if daily confirmed cases were not brought down to “hundreds” by September 1.

The virus czar also presented his color-coded system, under which cities and towns will see virus restrictions adapted to their local rates of infection. In “red” cities, he said, the highest level, schools may not open in the fall, he said, while “green” cities will see loosened restrictions on gatherings and outdoor events.

At Gamzu’s prodding, the government decided Thursday to cancel weekend closures on shopping centers, stores and markets that had been implemented to stymie the spread of the coronavirus, after establishing that the regulations weren’t driving down infection rates.

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