New coronavirus cases top 1,500 as cabinet prepares to meet

Nachman Ash in Shfaram: Christmas should be celebrated with nuclear families alone * Middle schoolers head back to school on Sunday

SHAARE ZEDEK hospital team members at the coronavirus ward, last month. Without institutional cooperation we will not be able to defeat the virus.  (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
SHAARE ZEDEK hospital team members at the coronavirus ward, last month. Without institutional cooperation we will not be able to defeat the virus.
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
The coronavirus cabinet is expected to convene Sunday afternoon after more days of rising infection and a report by the defense establishment that Israel is at the start of a third wave.
Coronavirus commissioner Nachman Ash visited Arab towns on Saturday, noting that in those communities infections are rising among the younger people, too.
Also, middle schoolers will return to school on Sunday – the last students to go back to their classrooms since the High Holy Day lockdown in September.
The Health Ministry reported Friday that 1,506 new cases of coronavirus were diagnosed the day before. This was the ninth day in the last 10 in which more than 1,000 Israelis have tested positive.
“It is not enough to prevent further relief,” wrote the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center on Friday, saying that Israel should consider backtracking on some of what it has already implemented.
Some 552 coronavirus patients were in the hospital, the Health Ministry reported, including 314 who are in serious condition - among them 97 who are intubated. This represents around a 20% increase in the number of people hospitalized in the past week. The number of patients in serious condition has surpassed 300 since November 22. The number of patients on ventilators also represents a significant spike.
The death toll stood at 2,901.
The total number of active patients as of Friday morning was 13,054 – some 1,830 from Jerusalem alone, representing 14% of active cases.
The reproduction rate, also known as the “R,” was 1.21, meaning that every five infected people will infect six more.
The knowledge center’s report showed that the spike in infection is clear and consistent and not a result of increased testing, as some might assume; 61,537 were tested on Friday. The average number of new daily patients is now over 1,000. This includes an increase in sick people over the age of 60, which by next week could result in a spike in serious patients or even deaths.
“All of this indicates that we are on the verge of a third wave,” according to the report.
“For every two more days in which the existing infection rate is maintained, a full day of lockdown will be required,” the report cautioned.
ASH VISITED the Arab towns of Mashhad and Shfaram on Saturday, the latter which has been labeled a red zone, and addressed the growing infection specifically among the Arab sector.

Prof. Nachman Ash in Mashhad on December 5, 2020 (Credit: Health Ministry)Prof. Nachman Ash in Mashhad on December 5, 2020 (Credit: Health Ministry)
In contrast to the knowledge center’s report, Ash said that in that sector there is a rise in morbidity among teens and young adults.
“When I entered the settlement, I saw a massive group of young people without masks, not social distancing,” Ash said, during his trip to Mashhad. “This is a problem and it is reflected in the data.
“Take care of yourselves,” he urged. “It is important, because otherwise, you will infect older people.”
Ash also spoke about the upcoming holidays during his visit to Shfaram, saying that this year, Christmas would have to be celebrated “differently.”
“Unlike in previous years, gatherings should be reduced to nuclear families; there should not be big celebrations, no gatherings,” he instructed. “If we make sure that the virus does not spread, we will get out of it quickly – and next year we will be able to celebrate joyously again.”
Finally, he also discussed the need for working with the Israel Police.
“We need you to communicate, but there is no choice: We also need the police to enforce [Health Ministry] restrictions,” Ash said, noting that in Shfaram he saw that proper roadblocks were open and people were being screened and questioned on entry and exit. But he said the Police also had to step up its presence inside the town and that people should be advised not to walk freely and spread the virus.
“We don’t only want the virus to not spread to neighboring towns, but also not within the city itself,” he said.
For decades, there has been under-policing, negligence and discrimination by Israel Police against Arab society, Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu, co-CEO of the Abraham Initiatives, told The Jerusalem Post. He said this has left the community in what some have called a state of emergency – which is becoming more apparent to the rest of the country during the coronavirus crisis.
According to the most recent report by the organization, since the beginning of the year, some 85 Arab citizens have been murdered in Israel in circumstances related to violence and crime. Of those, 67 were killed using firearms – many of them illegal. The number goes up to over 100 when the murders of non-citizens are included.
Already at the start of the pandemic, “there was no trust in the police and no policing for the benefit of the community,” Be’eri-Sulitzeanu said. “There was a lot of suspicion; a lot of alienation.”
In the first wave, as the Home Front Command and the Police entered Arab communities to help them reduce infection, the sector at first found it refreshing and comforting. “For many of the Arabs, it was comforting,” he said. “They felt that ‘the government cares about our lives.’ But that eroded very fast.”
Around 40% of new daily cases are from within the Arab sector. At 21% of the population, that means they are getting infected at nearly twice the rate of everyone else. They continue to host mass weddings and other gatherings. And when they return from red countries, many fail to isolate.
The police are aware of the tension and are reluctant to confront the population – because they know that if they try to enforce against the virus, riots could erupt. The police want to stay out of trouble, Be’eri-Sulitzeanu contended.
MEANWHILE, health officials are expected to raise several options for stopping the spread of the virus on Sunday. These could include forcing people to isolate in coronavirus hotels upon their return from Turkey. Until now, the ministry said, two-thirds of those returning from red states who are supposed to enter isolation don’t.
Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy has also talked about enforcing a ban on Arab Israelis traveling to the Palestinian territories and vice versa, while maintaining closures or tight restrictions on red cities.
However, it does not appear that health officials will recommend any new restrictions over the Hanukkah holiday, such as a night curfew or forbidding intercity travel. It is likely that Jewish families will be encouraged to celebrate the holiday with their nuclear families only, as Ash recommended to the Christians.
The cabinet will also likely discuss the mall pilot program, which ends Sunday night. Given the scenes of gathering, long lines and maskless shoppers, health officials are unlikely to recommend that it continue.
In contrast, Economy Minister Amir Peretz will push for more malls to open.
Peretz said in a statement Saturday night that the professionals who oversaw the pilot on behalf of his ministry found that the pilot was effective and all of the malls should be allowed to open.
He said he will accept the recommendation of his ministry, however, that 40 malls should open on Monday under “significant and uncompromising enforcement” of the rules. “A mall that does not meet the guidelines, will be closed – and even closed immediately, as will stores inside the mall.”
Finally, it looks like vaccines will arrive and start being administered in Israel before the end of the month, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein confirmed in an interview on N12 Saturday night. He said that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have agreed not to vaccinate anyone until the vaccine candidates receive approval by the US Food and Drug Administration.
However, he said that once approved, he and the prime minister are considering being the first people inoculated to prove to the country that they believe the vaccines are safe.