‘Israel in second wave of coronavirus, death toll may soar’

Coronavirus cabinet to convene Sunday as gov’t report predicts increase in infections.

A girl hugs her mother before entering her elementary school in Sderot as it reopens following the ease of restrictions preventing the spread of the coronavirus disease. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
A girl hugs her mother before entering her elementary school in Sderot as it reopens following the ease of restrictions preventing the spread of the coronavirus disease.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
A report by the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center said Israel is experiencing a second wave of coronavirus and that hundreds of people could die from COVID-19 this summer.
The report, published on the backdrop of a continual spike in cases, comes as the government approved resuming cultural events and ahead of another meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, set to take place on Sunday.
“If no action is taken and the current growth rate does not decrease significantly,” the report states, “then in a month, the number of new daily infections will be over 1,000 and the number of dead will reach many hundreds.”
It added that, “this situation could lead to exceedingly difficult financial decisions, to the point of closure.”
According to the report, whose publication was overseen by the IDF Military Intelligence Division in cooperation with the Health Ministry, over the past few weeks, the number of new infections in Israel has consistently risen. From May 15 to 21, the average number of new infections per day was around 16. This week – four weeks later – the average is around 200.
“The report reflects the feelings of the health system that we are at the beginning of the second wave,” said Assuta Ashdod Medical Center deputy director Dr. Hadar Marom.
The five-page report's specific authors were not named.
On Saturday night, the Health Ministry reported that there were 294 people diagnosed with coronavirus in the past day, bringing the country's total infected since the start of the crisis to 20,633. There are 4,668 active cases, among them 40 in serious condition. Another person died overnight, bringing Israel's coronavirus death toll to 305.
As of Friday, the rate of infection was doubling itself around every four days. The country is seeing around 7% growth daily.
The report added that there are more than 20 new patients in serious condition in the last week, whereas a month ago there were almost no new severe patients at all. Furthermore, it explained, that whereas at first it appeared that infection was concentrated in specific areas, it is now throughout the country.
Among the latest outbreaks is one at the Golden Age senior living center in the Anglo-heavy Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem. The nursing home said that 16 residents and staff members are infected with coronavirus, including 12 who are in the hospital.
Two residents are being cared for in isolation at the senior center and two caregivers, both foreign workers, are being treated at home.
The authors of the report recommend that five steps be taken immediately to help get coronavirus in Israel under control:
First, recent steps to reopen the economy should be reevaluated both in terms of their impact on the spread of the virus and in terms of the message that certain relaxing of restrictions send the public.
Second, a national communications campaign should be considered, including increasing information about the severity of the disease. The report recommends that targeted campaigns be carried out among specific sectors, though it does not elaborate.
Third, enforcement of the Health Ministry’s regulations should be increased.
Police are working to ensure that the public follows the rules. Overnight Thursday, Police inspected 744 businesses, including event halls, clubs and pubs, discovering and fining dozens of violators, the police said. Some business owners were warned, and others were summoned for a hearing.
Fourth, the country must implement an effective means of removing sick people from their homes and relocating them to state-run “coronavirus hotels.”
And finally, fifth, the report recommended that improved contact tracing should be implemented, including hiring new staff to carry out these epidemiological investigations.
On Friday, the Health Ministry announced plans to increase staffing in this area, which is considered key to stopping the spread of corona. In general, it is recommended to “test, trace and isolate.”
The ministry said it hopes to hire 300 more contact tracers immediately.
“Rapidly cutting off the infection chain is very important for coping with the increase in morbidity,” said Health Minister Yuli Edelstein. “We will allocate every resource needed to help.”
The report came less than 24 hours after the government approved the immediate opening of performance halls, concert venues, plays and movie theaters under Health Ministry guidelines on Friday. As soon as they are ready, cultural institutions can open for events of up to 250 people – all of whom must be sitting down.
Attendees will be asked to wear masks at all events. There will be no intermissions.
Also, tickets must be ordered in advance and the names and contact information of all attendees must be maintained by the establishment for up to 20 days.
“The train is back, we have opened up the world of culture and weddings, and people can go back to work,” wrote Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz on his Facebook page on Friday. “We will try to live under the coronavirus routine.”
Preempting the publication of the new report, Gantz noted that Israel is living in precarious times and “if we are not careful, we will find ourselves in a much more serious condition than we were. This is the most important issue now for the State of Israel.”
He cautioned that the public is not adhering to Health Ministry recommendations: wearing masks, social distancing and maintaining good hygiene.
“I urge you, citizens of Israel, to listen to the instructions, take care of yourself and your parents,” Gantz wrote on Facebook. “We have no interest or desire to go backwards.”
On Friday, the Health Ministry showed that 121 doctors and 233 nurses were in isolation, in addition to 393 other health personnel.
Two preschools in the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) city of Bnei Brak were closed when a teacher was infected with coronavirus. In addition, a municipality worker tested positive, sending several of the person’s co-workers into quarantine.
Additionally, schools in Ashdod and Rehovot had to close because of infection. Moreover, a school in Mevaseret Zion, a suburb of Jerusalem, was closed after one of its students tested positive, as well.
The authors of the weekend report added that in some ways Israel is better off this time around than last. For example, whereas in the first round of the virus around 13% of patients were over the age of 65, this time only around 8% are in that age bracket.
In addition, the health system is better prepared to handle serious cases.
However, the report said that in other ways Israel is more challenged, especially in that many cases during the first wave were brought into Israel from abroad, whereas now the source of infection is exclusively coming from within Israel, making it more difficult to control and suppress.
Prof. Hagai Levine, chairman of the Association of Public Health Physicians, however called the report “unprofessional” and “not serious.”
He said the knowledge center lacks transparency and that its staff includes no epidemiology or public health experts.
MK Ofer Shelah, the former chairman of the Knesset coronavirus committee, expressed similar sentiments: “This is not how a crisis is managed; this is not how a country is managed.”