For the first time since the start of the “second wave,” the infection rate has fallen below threshold 1, meaning each contagious person is infecting less than one other person, according to national coronavirus project manager Prof. Ronni Gamzu.“The ‘R’ in the entire State of Israel is equal or close to one,” he said late Sunday, reiterating statements made by former defense minister Naftali Bennett, who shared a graph on Sunday highlighting the achievement.“This means that if the Israeli public continues to behave properly, the epidemic will fade,” Bennett said. “It is precisely now that further efforts must be made to eradicate the coronavirus and to rehabilitate the livelihoods of the citizens of Israel.”
Gamzu shared this information during a press conference Sunday, which was held in conjunction with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy from the new Shield of Israel headquarters at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer.“In recent days it has been clear that we have managed to stop the rise of the virus,” Edelstein said, adding: “It’s good, but still not enough. The numbers are still high and even alarming.”Gamzu called on the public to follow Health Ministry directives, which he said would make the difference in the coming weeks.He specifically called on the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Arab communities and religious leaders to partner with him to stop the virus.“In the interim period [between yeshiva semesters], the students have returned home,” Gamzu said. “I beg them to prevent the spread of infection… In the Arab sector, where we have a number of outbreaks, I turn to the heads of the municipalities.”Gamzu said he wants to reach the High Holy Days as a “green state.”Israel is still far from that mark. As of Sunday night, there have been some 72,584 people diagnosed with coronavirus since the start of the crisis, including 26,386 active patients, the Health Ministry reported.On Saturday, 628 people tested positive, and fewer than 8,000 people were screened, leaving the infection rate at 8%. Some 321 people were diagnosed with coronavirus between midnight and press time on Sunday.There were 342 people in serious condition Sunday night, including 98 who were intubated.Some 536 people have died. According to data presented by the Health Ministry, the average age of the 210 people who died of coronavirus in July was 82.The lower number of people tested was a result of fewer requests and also because the ministry had slightly changed the criteria to allow it to more effectively contact trace, Gamzu said. The goal was to test the people who were in the “first circle” of those found to be infected, he said.Levy addressed a question regarding isolation, amid rumors that the standard 14-day quarantine period could be reduced. The topic is under discussion, but no changes had been made, he said.Last month, the Health Ministry shortened the isolation period in specific cases from 14 to 13 or 10 days.The press conference was held a day before the coronavirus cabinet is set to convene to discuss changes to Health Ministry directives, including potentially easing restrictions in some areas.Already on Sunday, the general cabinet met and decided to approve a NIS 4.2 billion infusion to the education system to enable it to open on September 1.“Today was an important day,” Netanyahu said. “We opened it with a cabinet decision about the beginning of the school year. This is a complicated move with many budgetary outlays. I approved this move, and the cabinet ratified it. This is important to get the school year underway. This is very important for the economy.”A decision about letting stores and malls be open on the weekends was pushed off from Thursday until Sunday’s cabinet meeting. Gamzu reiterated statements made over the weekend, saying: “We will not be reckless in removing restrictions… We want to create proper enforcement; we do not want the rules to be unclear. It will be easier for us to lower the restrictions when the graph starts to fall.”“Reckless decisions of easing along with incomplete discipline and complacency toward the opening of the year and the High Holy Days may take us back, so this is a test time,” he said. “In the coming weeks, we will discuss limiting and regulating restrictions on the economy. All of this is subject to the reduction of morbidity [rates] as part of the new contract with the public.”It is also expected that the coronavirus cabinet will cancel several restricted areas, including Modi’in Illit, Beitar Illit and Elad.Gamzu promised to hold several roundtable discussions in the coming weeks to make decisions effectively and coherently about all restrictions.The Health Ministry announced the next four roundtables will be held on: August 2 – discussion on gatherings restaurants, hotels and places of prayer; August 6 – seminaries, yeshivas, parks and water parks; August 8 – cultural events; August 9 – sporting events.Several residents of the King Solomon senior-living facility in Bnei Brak were diagnosed with coronavirus over the weekend, the Health Ministry said Sunday.After one asymptomatic patient tested positive, all the residents were screened. Nine people have the virus – all residents in the same ward.“Understanding that the adults are so fragile, we give priority to leaving the residents who feel well in their nursing home instead of sending them to dedicated coronavirus wards at geriatric medical centers around the country,” said Prof. Nimrod Maimon, head of the Health Ministry’s Magen Avot v’Imahot program. “Leaving the asymptomatic elderly residents in their nursing home is done with the understanding that many seniors prefer to stay in the place they are familiar with and with caregivers close to and familiar to them.”“From the events of the first wave, we learned that the very transfer of an elderly person from a place known to him to another place causes significant damage to his mental and cognitive state,” he said. “We also know that the staff who know him in the nursing home are aware of his habits and therefore know how to provide him with all his needs.”Residents and staff of nursing homes will be tested and monitored every four days, Maimon said.The Magen Avot v’Imahot strategic program was designed by Gamzu.During the press conference, Netanyahu referred to the race for a vaccine. Israel is working on ensuring its citizens have options, he said.“I cannot tell you that a vaccine will be found, but the signs at the moment seem encouraging,” Netanyahu said. “If there will be vaccines, I want the State of Israel to have access to these vaccines – first of all for the medical teams and at-risk populations and afterwards, of course, for the rest of the population.”Edelstein said Israel currently has three million doses of flu vaccine available and is working to get more. Israel is concurrently testing several rapid coronavirus testing options so that people with flu-like symptoms can find out almost instantly if they have the flu or COVID-19, he said.Wearing masks and social distancing will protect against the spread of the flu and the novel coronavirus, Edelstein said.