Israel’s coronavirus numbers jump, might slow exit from lockdown

With 710 new cases in the past day, officials worry that easing lockdown too quickly might reignite infection rate.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Coronavirus infections rose Tuesday, casting doubt on the government’s ability to move to the next stage in easing the national lockdown that has put a clamp on Israel’s struggling economy.

In the past day, 710 new cases were diagnosed out of 35,148 tests and there are currently 8,173 active cases in Israel.

Of the 592 Israelis hospitalized with coronavirus, 324 were listed in serious condition and of those, 142 were connected to ventilators.

Three more people died since midnight Monday, bringing Israel’s death toll to 2,681 since the beginning of the pandemic.

Those numbers are way down from the peak in October when over 60,000 people were actively sick and hospitals wards were near capacity. However, the government had set a target of a weekly average of 500 new infections daily in order to move to the next stage.

In the first stage of reopening Israel ended the restriction on Israelis traveling more than a kilometer from their homes and children in grades one through four returned to school, while hair salons, synagogues and places to stay and eat breakfast were allowed to reopen, but with limitations on the number of people allowed.

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This week stores that open onto the street were allowed to reopen, limited to four customers at a time and with everybody obligated to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Israelis flocked to make purchases in their first opportunity in over a month to shop for many items.

However, because of the failure to drive the infection rate lower, the government is expected to delay the third phase of staged exit from the national lockdown, which was to include sending grades 5 and 6 back to class and allowing the reopening of shopping malls, open-air markets and gyms.

High schools and universities are doing remote learning only, entertainment venues, restaurants, bars and gyms remain closed, and indoor gatherings are restricted to a maximum of 10 people, with outdoor gatherings limited to 20.

In a phone call with several world leaders to discuss the pandemic, Netanyahu said the announcement Monday of success in an American vaccine test did not mean the world could relax its guard.

“Yesterday was an extraordinary day. If I liken the global battle against corona to the global battle in World War II, yesterday was the landing on the beaches of Normandy,” Netanyahu said. “We still know it’s going to take time. There are going to be a lot of efforts but we know that the battle is on the way to be won.”

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Even though all the information is not yet in, the prime minister said “there is no question that there is a big light at the end of the tunnel.”

Netanyahu warned Israelis to do their part to not spread the virus, adding that full economic reopening would only follow improvement in infection numbers.

“Our exit from this level depends on defined criteria of infection rates … we just will not open more than what we have,” Netanyahu said. “I call this the accordion. We open up the economy and then we close it as we get more infections; then we open it and try not to open it up too fast because we know the infections will go upward accordingly.”