Nearing 5,000: Infection rate rockets days before Israel’s national lockdown

Infections explode to over 5,000 in the past day with country to be locked down starting this weekend.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s coronavirus infection rate appeared to be soaring out of control Tuesday as the Health Ministry announced that infections in the past day had skyrocketed to almost 5,000 cases. Meanwhile, a three-week national lockdown is set to begin Friday, when the country marks the Rosh Hashana Jewish new year holiday.

Health Ministry statistics showed 4,973 positive tests for coronavirus from Monday with the number of Israelis currently infected rising to 40,689. More than 10 percent of those tested came back positive for the virus, as numbers continue to soar under the current health regulations that emphasize wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing and washing one’s hands, but with only a few sectors of the economy shut down.

Of the 1,152 people hospitalized with coronavirus, 533 of them are in serious condition, including 140 connected to ventilators to assist their breathing. The death toll in Israel rose to 1,141 since the beginning of the pandemic.

On Sunday, the government announced a three-week-long national lockdown that begins Friday afternoon, the start of the Rosh Hashana new year holiday. The lockdown will continue through Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement, the holiest day on the Jewish Calendar – and only end after the Simchat Torah holiday at the end of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) in October.

The goal of the lockdown is to prevent the tradition of millions of Israelis traveling to join large extended families for the holidays, known to be a key source of infections. Prayers will be severely restricted as well, with those praying indoors separated by two meters (six feet).

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In cities with high infection rates that the government labeled as “red” cities, indoor prayers may be held in “capsules” of 10 people with a maximum of 30 people in a synagogue. Outdoor prayers, expected to be large over the holy days, must still maintain social distancing and in separate capsules roped off with at most 20 people.

Israelis will be restricted to within 500 meters of their homes. Schools and non-essential businesses will be closed.

The Rosh Hashanah (“New Year”) holiday period is also traditionally the time when hundreds of thousands of Israelis travel abroad for vacations. With only a handful of countries allowing Israeli tourists in and many of those requiring proof of a negative test for the coronavirus, there was a massive increase in the demand for corona tests at hospitals, Israel Army Radio reported.

Some hospitals had more than double the demand, with security guards struggling to keep those waiting in line the required two meters apart.