Israel hits new high in serious coronavirus cases

Despite tally, Ash sees ‘cause for optimism’

SHAARE ZEDEK hospital team members in the coronavirus ward. (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
SHAARE ZEDEK hospital team members in the coronavirus ward.
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
Israel on Sunday saw the highest number of serious novel coronavirus patients since the start of the pandemic, but according to at least one senior health official, there is cause for optimism.
“Over the weekend, we saw an increase in infection,” said coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash during a Sunday briefing. He said that the more than 5,000 new cases diagnosed on Saturday were more than in previous weeks, “but there is room for optimism. The graph does not show exponential growth but is beginning to flatten.”
Ash said the country is in a race between the disease and the vaccines and the increase in high-risk people being inoculated, the faster the country’s exit will be from lockdown.
There were 1,056 people in serious condition at press time on Sunday, including 306 in critical condition. Some 18 people died, bringing the death toll to 3,663.
Hospitals have reported that they are starting to feel the increase in serious cases.
Rambam Medical Center in Haifa reported that 106 people were hospitalized Sunday morning – a record number for the center. At the same time, Hadassah-University Medical Center reported 136 patients and said it was opening a new coronavirus unit.
Herzog Medical Center in Jerusalem reported 102 coronavirus patients, some 27 of them admitted on Friday and Saturday as a result of an outbreak in one of Jerusalem’s nursing homes. Some 40 people at Herzog were in serious condition.
Before the lockdown started, senior officials in the Health Ministry were already saying it was likely that the lockdown would be extended past two weeks in order to bring down infection. However, on Sunday, Ash said that the closure before the tightened lockdown, which itself lasted two weeks, might have had more of an impact than originally thought.
“We know the previous closure was less effective,” Ash said, “but maybe we can still see an impact.”
He said that criteria for exiting the current lockdown are still being determined, but that if the country sees a drop in seriously ill patients, the economy may be able to open – even if the total number of verified cases is still higher than originally desired.
Ash also said that the more the ministry understands about the British mutation and how much it has spread throughout Israel, the more this would influence its decision about when to open up.
“Before the mutation came into the picture, we thought that we would leave this closure fast – faster than the previous lockdowns,” Ash said, but “the mutation brought another perspective.”
He estimated that between 10% to 20% of Israelis with coronavirus are infected with the British variant. Health experts understand that it can infect people around 50% faster than the original coronavirus.
“As for the South African mutation,” he added, “there are far fewer cases. We are investigating them to locate their origins and isolate them.”
Still, he said, there will be several criteria evaluated before an exit strategy is determined: the infection rate, the reproduction rate – the number of people each sick person infects, which can be impacted by the mutation – and the pace at which the country’s high-risk population is being vaccinated.
There were signs on Sunday that people are adhering to the current lockdown. Preliminary reports showed there was 30% less traffic on Israel’s roads than on an average Sunday. By press time, the police had administered 7,500 tickets – the vast majority (6,000) to people who were more than 1,000 meters from home for reasons not permitted by the regulations.