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Israel hits 200,000 cases, a month after reaching 100,000

Virus surges to almost 7,000 daily cases as cabinet meets on tightening closure

Gamzu says public still not fully cooperating; testing hits almost 60,000 Tuesday; deputy health minister expects indoor prayer to stop, no inter-city travel for protests

Medical staff at the coronavirus ward of the Kaplan Medical Center, in Rehovot, on September 22, 2020 (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Medical staff at the coronavirus ward of the Kaplan Medical Center, in Rehovot, on September 22, 2020 (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The Health Ministry said on Wednesday morning that 6,923 new virus cases had been diagnosed in Israel the previous day, a massive surge to a record-high number of infections, as the coronavirus cabinet was set to meet on tightening the national lockdown.

A further 31 fatalities took the death toll to 1,316.

The latest figures pushed the number of Israel’s confirmed cases since the start of the outbreak past the 200,000 mark — 200,041 — only a month after the country hit 100,000 cases.

There were 634 patients in serious condition as of Wednesday morning, including 171 on ventilators, and 266 people classified in moderate condition. The remainder suffered mild or no symptoms.

Clalit Health care workers take test samples of Israelis in a drive through complex to check if they have been infected with the coronavirus, in Lod, on September 17, 2020.(Yossi Aloni/FLASH90)

The ministry announced a record 61,165 tests were carried out on Tuesday, with a high rate of positive results — about 11 percent.

Additionally, 4,331 medical personnel were in isolation — Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and ministry director-general Chezy Levy on Wednesday ordered the immediate recruitment of paramedics to provide backup in hospitals.

In an interview Wednesday morning, national coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu said that the public was still not fully cooperating with restrictions.

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu speaks during a Health Ministry briefing on September 2, 2020. (Screen capture: Facebook)

“In terms of morbidity we see that there are 6,700 new verified cases and of course this is a figure that is not related to the lockdown but to the period before,” Gamzu told Radio Jerusalem. “It should be noted that we do not currently see full cooperation from the public — neither the ultra-Orthodox public nor the secular public. We have also seen certain violations of the guidelines and this requires further tightening.”

Sources close to Gamzu told the Ynet news site that testing levels were very high because people rushed to get checked following the Rosh Hashanah holiday.

Ahead of a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet on new restrictions, set to begin Wednesday at 11:30 a.m., Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said that he expected the rules to be tightened sharply after Yom Kippur on September 28.

“Educational frameworks will be closed, the economy will be in the lowest possible gear with only vital work, synagogues without prayer inside and demonstrations without traveling between cities. This is what is needed now to reduce morbidity,” Kisch told Channel 12.

MK Yoav Kisch, then chairman of the Interior Affairs Committee at the Knesset, on July 12, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The coronavirus cabinet is expected to consider a plan to limit demonstrations and prayer services drawn up by an inter-ministerial task force composed of legal and health officials.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the weekly demonstrations against him as a health hazard at Tuesday’s coronavirus cabinet meeting, during which ministers failed to reach an agreement on stricter lockdown measures that would limit those rallies as well as public prayer.

While indoor prayers have been curtailed, and may face drastically stricter restrictions, outdoor protests have been allowed to continue with few limits, leading some to question the guidelines.

The protests, held several times weekly outside Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence, have not been restricted despite the lockdown that began on Friday. The attorney general has laid out rules to spread out protesters during the rallies into “capsules,” but they did not appear to be implemented during Sunday night’s protest, which drew thousands.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, September 20, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The deliberation over possible harsher measures comes only days after the government kicked off a three-week lockdown that shuttered schools and many businesses, along with implementing other restrictions.

Amid fears that the healthcare system will be overwhelmed by new serious COVID-19 cases in the coming days, Hebrew media reported that the new restrictions to be considered include further limiting attendance at workplaces; closing synagogues and placing new limitations on public prayers; and shutting all markets, including those selling “four species” plants for the Sukkot holiday.

According to television reports Tuesday evening, Netanyahu and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri sought to limit the demonstrations under the emerging new regulations, over the objections of some ministers from the centrist Blue and White party.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Netanyahu and Deri demanded that there be a single standard for all gatherings, including protests and synagogue prayers over Yom Kippur. If there isn’t parity in the guidelines, the two men reportedly warned, religious Israelis will not heed the rules.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn objected to their proposal, saying each type of gathering should be dealt with separately.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men shop for ‘four species’ in Modi’in Illit, ahead of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, on September 22, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Under the current restrictions, prayer services can be held indoors but numbers are limited depending on the size of the synagogue and local infections rates. The synagogues must accommodate four square meters per worshiper, with that rule overriding the others.

During Tuesday’s meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, a forum of ministers charged with formulating policy to counter the virus outbreak, Gamzu suggested that all indoor prayer services be banned. Deri warned in response that the ultra-Orthodox community is “ready to revolt” over the perceived asymmetry of the lockdown restrictions.

Health Ministry officials recommended tightening the lockdown, though ministers debated whether to impose additional restrictions immediately, or to wait until next week when it will be clearer whether the lockdown that went into place on Friday was working.

Under the current lockdown rules, citizens are only permitted to stray as far as 1,000 meters from the homes, although there is an extensive list of exceptions.

The ministers also discussed limiting the private sector workforce to 50 percent capacity while allowing the public sector to run according to emergency protocol.

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