Virus death toll rises to 208 but new infections appear to slow

Latest infection numbers show continuing downward trend in daily rate of new cases, but may be due to number of daily tests dipping below 10,000

Magen David Adom medics wearing protective clothing evacuate a suspected coronavirus patient to the coronavirus unit at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem, April 20, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Magen David Adom medics wearing protective clothing evacuate a suspected coronavirus patient to the coronavirus unit at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem, April 20, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Four people succumbed to the coronavirus late Monday and early Tuesday, bringing the Israeli death toll to 208, the Health Ministry said, as the country prepared to reopen schools and more businesses in the next few days.

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose to 15,589, with 123 new cases over the previous 24 hours. The tally was nearly double the 68 new cases seen in the 24 hours before that, but still showed a steep drop-off from last week, which had seen more than 200 cases daily.

However, the improved figures were tempered by statistics released by the ministry showing that testing had dipped to below 10,000 samples a day, after reaching close to 14,000 daily tests a week earlier.

According to the ministry, 9,031 tests were performed on Saturday, 8,393 tests on Sunday — when fewer than 100 cases were confirmed for the first time in over a month — and Monday saw a slight uptick with 9,546 tests.

The Health Ministry said 117 people are hospitalized in serious condition and 94 are on ventilators, numbers that have also steadily declined in recent days.

So far, 7,375 people have recovered, according to Health Ministry numbers.

A Magen David Adom ambulance service medic, wearing protective gear, seen handling coronavirus tests from patients outside a hotel being used as a coronavirus quarantine facility, in Jerusalem on April 19, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The ministry has been dogged by questions relating to testing numbers, for which needed data is not always publicly available. A spokesman said Tuesday that labs had been equipped to run up to 15,000 daily tests, but fewer people were showing up to get tested. He said the ministry would soon begin random testing in high-infection areas.

The testing is seen as a vital component of plans being pushed by the government to ease lockdown restrictions that had been aimed at curbing an outbreak of the virus, which had brought the economy to an almost total standstill.

Many stores and businesses were allowed to resume operations Sunday, on condition that hygiene regulations related to the virus were adhered to. In addition, restaurants and food shops were allowed to sell products for takeaway, not just home deliveries, as long as a physical barrier was placed between the cashier and the customers.

The cabinet on Monday approved a plan that could see a gradual reopening of schools next week.

Over the weekend, the Health Ministry defined new parameters on which to base its decisions regarding the easing or tightening of restrictions on the public and the economy, amid widespread criticism of a confused decision-making process.

Despite the general easing of restrictions, the cabinet last week voted in favor of severely limiting commemorations and celebrations of Israel’s Independence and Memorial days and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in the latest bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

President Reuven Rivlin and military chiefs wear protective masks during the national opening ceremony for Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, April 27, 2020 (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)

Military cemeteries were ordered shut for Memorial Day, which began on Monday evening, preventing bereaved families from visiting the graves of fallen soldiers and terror victims. A scaled-down memorial ceremony attended by President Reuven Rivlin and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi was held at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, but without an audience. The ceremony was broadcast live.

On Independence Day, which begins Tuesday evening and ends Wednesday evening, a general curfew will be in effect requiring people to remain within 100 meters of their homes — except for medical needs — and banning intercity travel, similar to the curfew earlier this month for Passover. Supermarkets will not be open.

The Independence Day curfew will begin at 5 p.m. on Tuesday and end at 8 p.m. the next day.

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