12,000 diagnosed with COVID-19 since last Friday

Weekend restrictions come into effect as 59 virus deaths recorded in a week

Health Ministry data shows 13 fatalities in 24 hours, 1,811 new cases; malls, stores, markets, gyms and hair and beauty salons close from 5 p.m. until Sunday morning

Staff at the coronavirus ward of Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, July 20, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Staff at the coronavirus ward of Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, July 20, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Israel has recorded 59 coronavirus deaths and over 12,000 new cases in a week, according to Health Ministry data published Friday morning, as the country shuttered businesses over the weekend to stem the spread of the virus.

With 13 new COVID-19 fatalities in the past 24 hours, the national death toll since the start of the pandemic rose to 446.

The ministry confirmed 1,811 new cases since Thursday morning, bringing the tally to 58,559 — up by 12,000 since last Friday.

The number of active cases, however, dropped from more than 33,000 to 32,226, after new rules came into effect stating that virus carriers don’t need to wait for a negative test result, but can be considered recovered after 13 days, if they don’t show symptoms for three consecutive days. The number of recovered patients subsequently jumped by 2,327 in 24 hours, to 25,887.

The number of serious cases reached 302, a rise of 89 over the past week. Of the serious patients, 81 are on ventilators. There were 120 others in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

The ministry said 27,238 tests results returned on Thursday, 6.9 percent of which were positive, a drop after three successive days in which that figure stood at over 7.5%.

People wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus at the Mamilla mall in Jerusalem, on July 6, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Meanwhile, restrictions aimed at curbing the coronavirus kicked in at 5 p.m. Friday and will remain in effect until early Sunday morning, after a tumultuous week that saw some of the government’s planned closures overturned by a Knesset panel.

Malls are closed for the weekend, as well as most stores, markets, open-air shopping centers, hair and beauty salons and gyms. They will be allowed to reopen at 5 a.m. on Sunday.

Restaurants are allowed to continue their operations under the existing rules, which allow up to 20 diners indoors and 30 outdoors. Beaches and swimming pools will also remain open.

Unlike during the nationwide closures of March and April, there are no limit on leaving home.

Supermarkets, pharmacies and public transportation are not affected by the closure. Also unaffected are museums — except those aimed at children — exhibition spaces, zoos, cable cars, tourism sites and amusement rides.

Culture events, event halls, bars and nightclubs are already closed until further notice. Gatherings are currently permitted for up to 10 people indoors and 20 people outdoors. Synagogues are allowed to host prayers with no more than 10 worshipers.

The Knesset Coronavirus Committee this week continued with its series of reversals of cabinet-imposed restrictions, ruling in several separate decisions that restaurants, attractions, swimming pools and beaches could remain open over the weekend and that gyms may reopen on Sunday morning.

Visitors wear protective face masks at the Jeff Koons exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, June 03, 2020 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The committee has said the Health Ministry has not provided sufficient evidence to justify shuttering such places, but health officials say the origin of a significant portion of infections is not known, therefore forcing them to partially rely on global data on infections to decide on high-risk locations.

Restaurants and gyms had originally been ordered closed by the cabinet last Friday, with the exception of facilities used by professional athletes.

MK Yifat Shasha-Biton at a Knesset coronavirus committee meeting on July 19, 2020. (screen capture: Knesset livestream)

MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, also angered the government earlier this month when she reversed an order to close outdoor swimming pools.

The Knesset on Thursday passed a law that grants the cabinet expanded powers to impose wide-ranging restrictions to curb the coronavirus pandemic, while reducing parliamentary oversight, in a move seen as designed to disempower Shasha-Biton.

However, Shasha-Biton on Thursday said that she and the committee would still work to oversee the fight against the pandemic, even without the power to give orders.

“Do not rush to eulogize the committee. We will continue to engage in the core of the lives of the people during the coronavirus [pandemic] and we will continue to ask the difficult questions and oversee the work of the cabinet, even without [the ability to give] orders,” Shasha-Biton said.

The Knesset plenum on July 22, 2020. (Screenshot: Knesset Channel)

The so-called Great Coronavirus Law, which comes into force on August 10, reduces the Knesset’s oversight power and neuters the Coronavirus Committee.

Netanyahu had reportedly weighed firing Shasha-Biton but instead the new law deprives her committee of its authority to reverse cabinet orders, and grants four other Knesset panels more limited oversight powers.

The legislation allows the cabinet to set restrictions on the public, with the Knesset given just 24 hours to approve or reject the regulations before they take effect automatically. In addition, it includes a clause that allows the cabinet to bypass the Knesset and immediately implement measures deemed “urgent,” without specifying the criteria for making that determination. Knesset committees in those instances will still be able to reverse the emergency regulations, but only a week, and less than two weeks, after they are approved by the cabinet.

Nonetheless, Shasha-Biton was invited to participate in high-level ministerial consultations on battling COVID-19 on Thursday.

Medical personal at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan are seen in the hospital’s coronavirus ward on June 30, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Israel was initially seen as a success story after clamping down on the virus by imposing a strict lockdown in March and April, but saw the pandemic surge to unprecedented levels after reopening schools and rescinding almost all restrictions in May.

Experts have blamed a too-speedy reopening and the lack of an effective contact tracing program as main factors in the virus running riot.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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