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Virus worries rise as over 250 cases diagnosed in 24 hours across Israel

Expert advising Netanyahu blames Health Ministry for failing to learn from first outbreak, warns of new lockdown; ministers to meet Wednesday to discuss restrictions

People wearing face masks walk  in Jerusalem  on June 16, 2020.(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People wearing face masks walk in Jerusalem on June 16, 2020.(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Tuesday night recorded 258 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, marking the highest surge in daily infections since late April, as a health expert advising the prime minister warned the country was facing another closure due to mismanagement.

Overall, there were 3,744 active virus cases as of Tuesday — an increase of over 1,700 new cases since June 1, ministry data indicated. Tel Aviv, seen as a center of the newest outbreak, has passed the 1,000 case mark, according to ministry figures, up from 611 at the start of the month.

No new deaths were reported on Tuesday, keeping the toll at 302 since the start of the outbreak in March. There are 39 people in serious condition, including 29 on ventilators. Another 41 people are in moderate condition and the rest are displaying mild symptoms. The ministry data also said 14,371 virus tests were conducted on Monday.

The high-level coronavirus cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was set to convene on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the rise in cases and whether to reimpose certain restrictions.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein in the city of Bnei Brak on June 16, 2020. (Flash90)

According to Channel 12 news, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein was pushing for the reopening of the economy to be halted. However, he is expected to run into serious conflict with other ministers, who want to see the country reopened.

Health Ministry officials were also pushing back against calls by Finance Minister Israel Katz to resume train operations and arts and culture events, according to the television report.

An expert advising Netanyahu on Tuesday blamed the ministry for failing to prepare for the newest surge.

“The Health Ministry did not learn its lessons from the first wave of infection,” charged Prof. Eli Waxman, who led the panel of experts advising the premier on the pandemic, according to Channel 12. Waxman said the ministry failed to bolster its capabilities or delegate properly in anticipation of the second wave of the pandemic.

“The management of the national crisis has been left without any changes… and it places us all at the risk of another closure,” he said, according to the network.

Clalit Health Services worker takes saliva sample from a child at a mobile testing station for coronavirus, in Holon, on June 11, 2020. (Flash90)

Cases seen around the country

The new cases are distributed across the country, confounding health officials who have struggled to pinpoint how and where the virus is spreading.

Of the new cases recorded in the past three days, 49 were found in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, 32 in Arara in the south, 32 in Jerusalem, 31 in Bnei Brak in central Israel, 29 in Baqa al-Gharbiyye in the north, as well as 22 in the northern city of Haifa.

“Right now, we don’t have markers to detect who is spreading the virus, as we did in the beginning. We don’t know where we need to be particularly careful, and where we need to carry out more tests — and this is the problem,” Prof. Sigal Sadetzky, head of public health services in the Health Ministry, told the Kan public broadcaster on Monday.

A Health Ministry breakdown of data since the weekend has labeled 468 of the 648 cases diagnosed between June 12 and 15 as coming from towns and cities all around the country that are not flagged as having high infection rates. Just five of the new cases were found among Israelis who came from abroad.

Israelis, some wearing protective face masks and some not, at a cafe in Tel Aviv on June 16, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Also Tuesday, a new coronavirus hotel opened in Jerusalem to house those from Tel Aviv’s asylum-seeker population who have contracted the pathogen, as well as other cases that may not be able to properly isolate at home, according to Channel 13.

While many of the hotels for the sick and quarantined were shut down as the virus appeared to fade, the network of quarantine hotels was never fully closed, even after the requirement for all international arrivals to self-isolate in them was lifted. People unable to quarantine at home for two weeks were still given the option to use these facilities if they so chose.

Israel has lifted most restrictions on gatherings in the country, reopening schools, cafes, hotels, and restaurants in recent weeks. Earlier this week, it allowed weddings and other celebrations to be held with up to 250 guests.

Finance Minister Katz said Tuesday he would lobby for the resumption of trains and arts and culture during Wednesday’s coronavirus cabinet meeting, two of the last holdout restrictions.

Since lockdown restrictions were eased, virus cases have steadily climbed. After a sustained drop in new cases, the number of daily infections began to rise and topped 200 in one day late last week, before dipping slightly over the weekend.

Much of the resurgence of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has been blamed on the education system, which has seen hundreds of new cases confirmed in schools and kindergartens. The entire education system was shuttered for two months during the lockdown that began in mid-March.

Inspectors talk to a man not wearing a face mask in the northern city of Safed on June 15, 2020. (David Cohen/ Flash90)

On Tuesday, the Education Ministry said 627 students and educational staff have been infected by the coronavirus in the latest outbreak. It said 168 schools have been closed as a precaution and 20,000 people are in quarantine.

The virus has also hit a nursing home in Tel Aviv, where 10 staff and residents were diagnosed with COVID-19 and an elderly man died of virus complications, the ministry confirmed on Monday.

11 medical staff members at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital have contracted the virus, according to a report earlier on Tuesday.

Netanyahu has warned that emergency regulations could be reintroduced if social distancing and hygiene measures are not adequately observed by the public.

Over the weekend, guards at the Prime Minister’s Residence and a worker at the President’s Residence fell ill with COVID-19, but neither Netanyahu nor President Reuven Rivlin were required to self-isolate under Health Ministry rules.

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