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Virus death toll jumps to 576, as serious cases mount, filling hospitals

Hadassah Ein Kerem’s coronavirus ward overwhelmed at 200% standard capacity for first time; 358 people listed in serious condition, a new high

Illustrative: Magen David Adom workers wearing protective clothing at Hadassah Ein Karem Medical Center in Jerusalem, on July 20, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Illustrative: Magen David Adom workers wearing protective clothing at Hadassah Ein Karem Medical Center in Jerusalem, on July 20, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel recorded seven new coronavirus deaths Thursday, taking the national death toll to 576, as the number of serious cases reached a new high and a COVID-19 ward at a major hospital hit 200 percent capacity — a first.

With 1,055 new cases since midnight, the national case count rose to 79,275, of which 25,285 were active cases.

The Health Ministry said 358 people were hospitalized in serious condition, including 100 people being treated with ventilators.

The previous record number of patients in serious condition was 355, reached on Wednesday morning.

Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center continued to be Israel’s most overwhelmed hospital, rising on Thursday evening to 202% of the standard capacity of its coronavirus ward. According to the Ynet news site, the hospital has been sending patients to other medical centers to try to ease the caseload. Officials have also looked at opening a new ward to handle the influx of patients.

Four other hospitals, including Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek, were at 100 percent capacity or higher.

Jerusalem is one of Israel’s COVID-19 hotspots, and currently has more active cases than any other city, with 3,891.

Medical personnel wearing protective gear handle a coronavirus test sample at the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, on March 24, 2020 (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Earlier Thursday, coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu said 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.

“Israel has the highest morbidity in the world per capita,” said Gamzu in a live-streamed briefing to reporters, saying the situation “cannot continue.”

It was unclear on what data the health official tasked with overseeing Israel’s response to the virus was basing this assessment, and whether he was referring to the overall rate or the rate of increase in recent weeks. According to various global rankings, including Worldometer, Israel ranks 16th to 19th in terms of cases per million people — behind the US, Gulf states, and some Latin American countries — with all cases since the start of the pandemic tallied.

Prof. Ronni Gamzu speaks at a press conference on July 28, 2020 (YouTube screenshot)

“The goal of the Israeli government is to reduce the morbidity to the level of hundreds of patients ahead of September,” continued Gamzu. “This is a very difficult task, but it is the goal. It is important not only for the health situation, but also for the economy.”

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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