Coronavirus deaths top 70 as Israel prepares for Passover curfew

Infections climb, death toll reaches 71 as traffic choked off in advance of nationwide curfew to keep Israelis at home for start of Passover festival.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The number of Israelis infected with coronavirus continued to climb Wednesday as the country prepared to be locked down with a total curfew for the start of the Passover festival.

The Ministry of Health reported the death toll rose overnight to 71 with 9,404 people in Israel testing positive so far since the outbreak of the pandemic. Of the 740 people hospitalized, 147 are in serious condition and 122 of them are breathing with the help of ventilators.

Traffic slowed to a trickle after a ban on intercity travel went into effect Tuesday in a targeted move to stop millions of Israelis from gathering for the traditional Seder meal Wednesday evening that marks the start of the week-long Passover holiday.

Police roadblocks were set up to prevent movement with those traveling for non-critical reasons facing fines. Starting Wednesday afternoon a curfew goes into effect limiting citizens to within 100 meters of there homes until Thursday morning to ensure that Israelis get the message to stay home and not spread the virus.

“No one may leave the community in which they live unless it is to buy food, medicine or other essential products, or to receive essential services, that are otherwise unobtainable in the community in which they live,” a government statement said.

A major outbreak was traced to large gatherings on the Purim holiday in February before social distancing measures were put into place. The exponential growth in infections since then led to a shutdown of most of Israel’s economy – the education system is closed and a million people are out of work, rocketing the unemployment rate to an unprecedented 25 percent of the workforce.

An El Al Airlines cargo plane loaded with vital chemicals needed for medical testing took off from South Korea and is expected to arrive in Israel later in the day, Ynet reported. The plane is also carrying 30,000 biohazard protection suits.

Health authorities had been forced to reduce the number of coronavirus tests last week due to a chemical shortage, with thousands of biological samples unable to be processed. The emergency airlift will allow tens of thousands of additional tests that are critical to tracking and preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

“In light of the urgency, the Defense Ministry’s unit tasked with international shipping led a rapid operation to bring these chemicals to Israel, before the start of the Passover holiday,” the Ministry of Defense said in a statement,