Israel death toll climbs to 32 with 6,211 confirmed infections

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman tests positive for coronavirus, top health ministry officials immediately quarantine themselves but keep working.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The death toll in Israel from the coronavirus epidemic rose to 32 by Thursday as the rate of those succumbing from the virus climbed as well.

There were 6,211 confirmed infections and 735 people were hospitalized, 107 of them in serious condition and of those 83 were connected to ventilators to help them breathe.

The leap in those needing hospitalization was a worrisome 15 percent increase in just 24 hours. Although between Tuesday and Wednesday no additional patients needed ventilators, the change by Thursday of nine additional patients needing the device represented a 12 percent rise in one day.

Health experts said weeks ago they feared the soaring infection rate would inundate the hospitals, which do not have enough ventilators to cope with the expected onslaught of seriously ill patients.

Only two weeks ago when there were only a few hundred confirmed cases of infection, one of Israel’s leading epidemiologists predicted that “by the end of the month of March we will be close to ten thousand.” That number is expected to be surpassed in the coming days.

On Wednesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the nation, saying “we are still in the midst of an international tsunami.”

“The corona pandemic is engulfing continents and countries – almost every country on earth. This is a mighty storm. The world is at one great front.”

Netanyahu also announced a policy change, telling Israelis to wear masks if they had to leave their home, even if was simply “a scarf or any other face covering that would reduce the spread of the virus to others.”

On Thursday the health ministry’s top officials were forced into quarantine after Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman and his wife tested positive for the virus. The ministry said Litzman was not feeling any effects of the virus and he and ministry’s senior officials would continue working while in quarantine.

The country remains in a lockdown, but short of a total curfew. Most Israelis are confined to their homes and ordered by law not to meet more than one other non-family member while maintaining a two-meter (six-foot) separation. They are to remain within 100 meters of their home unless shopping for food or medicine.

The education system has been shut down for weeks and over one million Israelis, one worker in four, is unemployed.