Corona numbers up as Israel prepares to ease restrictions

Infections and deaths continue to rise, but statistics of number of Israelis hospitalized show recent downward trend as government prepares to begin easing restrictions next week.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Weary from weeks of being shut in at home as the coronavirus economic crisis worsens, Israelis saw a glimmer of hope Friday as the number of those hospitalized with the virus showed signs of dropping and the government announced plans to start easing some restrictions gradually.

According to health ministry statistics released Friday morning, 12,855 Israelis are confirmed to be infected and six more people succumbed to the virus overnight, bringing the death toll up to 148. From within the confirmed infections, 2,967 people have fully recovered so far.

Of the 632 people hospitalized due to the coronavirus, 182 were listed in serious condition with 129 of them breathing with the help of ventilators.

However, the number of patients on ventilators dropped slightly and the number of those hospitalized is down for the second day in a row from its peak of 783 on April 15.

Employees and business owners will have to wait until Saturday night to hear the details of the government’s plan to gradually restart businesses and get the economy moving slowly. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced late Thursday that intensive planning was still going on to determine how much the restrictions on business and movement could be eased while maintaining enough control to prevent a renewal of the exponential infection rate.

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“Over the next 48 hours the professional teams will prepare the draft decision and map the sectors in the pilot (program), and detailed procedures for operating the businesses and companies will be prepared, as will be guidelines on the conduct of the public in the public sphere and businesses. It is possible that changes will be made pursuant to the discussions that will be held over the next two days,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

The closures on non-essential businesses and the education system has driven unemployment over 25 percent and the once-thriving Israeli economy has been hammered by the pandemic.

The plan will be submitted for cabinet approval Saturday evening, the night before the start of the work week in Israel. Health ministry officials had clashed with their economic counterparts, fearing a surge of infections if restrictions were removed too quickly, while the finance and industry ministries shot back that continued closures were causing massive damage to the economy.

Some of the details were already announced, such as extending the distance that people could go from their homes from 100 to 500 meters and restarting of some special education programs.

The health ministry also released a public opinion poll conducted Thursday that showed the vast majority of Israelis said they were complying with public health guidelines. Of the people polled, 95.3 percent said they wore a mask each time they left the house and 92.7 percent replied that they stuck to social distancing and kept a two-meter distance from others.

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While 88.7 remembered to wash their hands each time they returned home, only 81.4 percent said they only leave their house for food and medicines. Although most Israelis were managing to keep digitally connected, 13.8 percent said the difficulty to stay in touch with other people was affecting their morale.