Coronavirus crisis continues as country passes 11,000 active cases

1,130 people diagnosed in a single day • Border police commander tests positive

Israeli border policewomen chat with local residents at the entrance to Bnei Brak as Israel enforces a lockdown of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish town badly affected by coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Bnei Brak, Israel April 3, 2020 (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Israeli border policewomen chat with local residents at the entrance to Bnei Brak as Israel enforces a lockdown of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish town badly affected by coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Bnei Brak, Israel April 3, 2020
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Israel hit another coronavirus record over the weekend, as the Health Ministry reported on Friday that 1,130 people were diagnosed with the novel coronavirus the day before. The nation passed the figure of 10,000 patients for the first time since the pandemic began.
Among the now 10,929 sick patients (17,773 of Israel’s 29,032 patients have already recovered), some 84 are in serious condition – a number that has continued to grow in the past week.
Moreover, the death toll rose to 330.
This milestone was reached as a series of restrictions were rolled out at 8 a.m. on Friday morning. Event halls, bars, clubs and prayer houses will be limited to 50 attendees. Any other gatherings in closed spaces are now limited to 20 people. The Knesset is expected to approve those decisions on Sunday, making them enforceable.
During a briefing on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the number of patients in serious condition increased by 50% in just the last week.
“We must return to the reality of restrictions in order to flatten the curve,” he said.
Until now, there has been a tangible difference between this wave of coronavirus and the first one, in that although the number of infected people has continued to climb each day, the number of patients in serious condition or who are intubated has remained stable and low. Similarly, although there have been more deaths in recent days, the mortality curve is lower than in the first wave.
However, Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein expressed concern on Thursday that this was changing.
Netanyahu said: “Anyone who says, ‘But there are no serious patients’ – at first it really was that way,” but now they have begun to infect others. “The data is sharp and clear and leaves us with no choice. We have to go back to the reality of restrictions to flatten the curve.”
Edelstein explained that in all of June the hospitals treated 103 patients in serious condition. In one-and-a-half days of July, 10 are already being treated.
According to the most recent statistics, only 15% of patients who are currently infected are over the age of 60. Also, in the spring, the number of sick patients was doubling around every three days and currently the doubling rate is around seven days.
Still, a senior parliamentary source told The Jerusalem Post that, “This is a bad innovation of the last few days.” He explained that Israel likely did not see a quick rise in serious cases because “young people initially infected other young people, and now they are infecting older people. This means that there is a significant increase in hospital load and, sadly, deaths.”
There are those who have argued that the disease has “weakened” this time around.
Prof. Matteo Bassetti, head of the infectious diseases clinic at Italy’s Policlinico San Martino Hospital, told The Telegraph in a recent interview that the virus has changed.
“The clinical impression I have is that the virus is changing in severity,” he said. “In March and early April, the patterns were completely different. People were coming to the emergency department with a very difficult-to-manage illness, and they needed oxygen and ventilation; some developed pneumonia.
“Now, in the past four weeks, the picture has completely changed in terms of patterns. There could be a lower viral load in the respiratory tract, probably due to a genetic mutation in the virus which has not yet been demonstrated scientifically. Also, we are now more aware of the disease and able to manage it,” he said.
Prof. Jonathan Gershoni of Tel Aviv University’s School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology told the Post he disagrees.
“I would not try to ascribe to the virus anything new or biological – that all of a sudden it is more infectious or more potent,” Gershoni said. “This is simply not the case; the virus is the same.”
The senior source also told the Post that the morbidity rate in hospitals is on the rise as well, and is often under-reported. On Friday, the Health Ministry showed that 1,700 medical personnel were in isolation.
He stressed that daily testing still needs to be increased and that more contact tracers need to be hired.
“We need 100,000 tests a day and that’s possible,” he said.
On Thursday, the Health Ministry screened nearly 24,500 people for the virus – the highest number in a single day to date. The percentage of people who tested positive is around 4.5%. On Friday, some 20,912 people were screened and 936 people were diagnosed with the virus – also a rate of about 4.5%.
The chief commander of Israel’s Border Police, Maj.-Gen. Yaakov Shabtai, tested positive for the novel coronavirus over the weekend. A spokesperson for the Border Police said the commander is in stable condition and feeling well.
Last week, Shabtai attended a memorial service for the fallen soldiers of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza alongside President Reuven Rivlin, Chief Commander of the IDF Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz. However, an epidemiological investigation revealed that none of the leaders will need to enter isolation, the Health Ministry reported.
Furthermore, IDF Central Command commander Nadav Padan entered quarantine on Saturday after attending an event with a confirmed patient.
Eleven residents of a senior living facility in Tel Aviv were diagnosed with coronavirus on Saturday as well, the Health Ministry said.
On Friday, an intern who works with the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee tested positive for coronavirus, the Knesset Spokesperson’s Office said. As a result, MK Zvi Hauser entered quarantine and all meetings of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for the coming week were canceled.
This is not the first time there has been coronavirus in the Knesset. In June, Joint List MK Sami Abu Shehadeh tested positive for coronavirus. Around the same time, Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay went into quarantine following an assistant receiving a positive test for COVID-19.
And recall, in April, Netanyahu, Mossad Director Yossi Cohen, National Security Council Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and former Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov entered quarantine after Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman was diagnosed with the coronavirus.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) surveillance program, which had been halted due to legislative challenges, has  re-launched.
According to N12, already thousands of people had been contacted and asked to enter quarantine.
“Many of the citizens who have received these notices are asked to contact the Health Ministry hotline,” a report by N12’s Yoav Even explained. “Due to the heavy load of calls, waiting times were extremely long and even sometimes led to people being disconnected.”
All people who are notified that they have been near an infected person need to enter isolation until they are in direct contact with the Health Ministry to see if they should be exempt.
Police are stepping up enforcement.  
On Shabbat, Police uncovered a large party in the Ben Shemen Forest that was held without permission and without a license, according to a Police spokesperson. Hundreds of participants attended the event and did not adhere to the Health Ministry directives.
Most of the participants were under the influence of alcohol and are suspected of having been under the influence of drugs.
The 29-year-old who is suspected of organizing the party was detained for questioning.
According to the Nature and Parks Authority, some 70,000 Israelis visited national parks and nature reserves over Shabbat.
Police administered more than 3,079 fines for people not wearing masks over Shabbat and gave out several fines for businesses and restaurants operating against Health Ministry regulations.