Israel sees 2,506 new virus cases Sunday as country heads to 3-week lockdown

Israel recorded 2,506 new virus cases Sunday and nine people died, bringing the national death toll from the pandemic to 1,119 as the country geared up to enter a full lockdown for the second time.

The new Health Ministry figures were recorded from midnight Saturday until 10 p.m. Sunday.  The total case count since the pandemic began stood at 155,604, of which 39,479 were active cases.

The number of serious cases rose to 519, including 144 people on ventilators, with 202 in moderate condition

The number of tests carried out on Sunday stood at 28,156, similar to the number conducted on Saturday, but down from the average of about 40,000 a day over the past week.

Israel’s failure to contain a resurgent coronavirus outbreak. saw the cabinet on Sunday authorized a three-week nationwide lockdown over the upcoming Jewish holidays.

Israeli police seen at the entrance to the neighborhood of Ramot in Jerusalem as Israel enforces a lockdown; a night curfew, applied to some 40 cities all over Israel which have been badly affected by the Coronavirus. September 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The lockdown will take force at 2 p.m. on Friday, hours before the start of Rosh Hashanah.

Speaking at a press conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that under the restrictions, Israelis will be limited from traveling more than 500 meters from their home except for essential needs like food and medicine. Schools will be closed starting Friday, and businesses and public sector employers will face strict limitations that he did not specify.

Supermarkets, pharmacies and other essential businesses will be allowed to remain open and deliveries will be allowed.

Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces announced late Sunday that several top generals including Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Turgeman, the head of IDF Technological and Logistics Directorate, and Chief Medical Officer Brig. Gen. Tarif Bader, were in quarantine after coming into contact with an IDF officer who then tested positive.

A Health Ministry report Saturday showed 978,000 people had been ordered into quarantine since July 1 due to experiencing symptoms or meeting with known carriers (quarantine usually lasts 12-14 days since last contact with the known patient, or two days after the disappearance of a high temperature that has not been diagnosed).

Channel 12 news reported Saturday that Health Ministry officials are looking at changing criteria for positive diagnoses, amid concerns the current interpretation of PCR tests was overly sensitive and often provides false positives.

A technician carries out a diagnostic test for coronavirus in a lab at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv on August 3, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

These criteria were creating a warped and inaccurate picture of infection levels, health officials fear, as they reviewed the possibility of altering procedures.

Two ministers, Culture Minister Chili Tropper and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel, were ordered to enter quarantine Saturday after being exposed to confirmed carriers of the virus.

On Friday, top business leaders warned Netanyahu that a new national lockdown would be disastrous to the local economy and many businesses threatened to defy closure orders and open up anyway.

Speaking Sunday, Netanyahu acknowledged the economic pain caused by the lockdown measures, but insisted the economy was doing better than other countries’, which he credited to Israel being among the first to lockdown in early spring and then to reopen its economy in May after the first lockdown. He presented a slide showing the decline in Israel’s GDP in the second quarter of 2020 as less steep than in countries including the United States and Germany, and promised financial compensation for those hurt in the new lockdown.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces a new coronavirus lockdown, on September 13, 2020. (Yoav Dudkevitch / POOL / AFP)

According to Hebrew media reports, the Finance Ministry projected the lockdown will result in a NIS 6.5 billion ($1.8 billion) loss to the economy. The previous lockdown in March and April plunged Israel into a recession.

The proposal is highly controversial with the public, with many business leaders threatening to defy it. Hotels are furious that they will be required to cancel reservations for the High Holidays just days in advance, having geared up staff and purchased quantities of supplies and food.

There are also complaints that the lockdown unjustifiably closes down the entire country rather than focusing on COVID-19 red zones, and allegations that it is politically impacted, with the government reluctant to be seen as singling out ultra-Orthodox areas, which, along with Arab areas, have some of Israel’s highest contagion rates. Netanyahu at his press conference denied that he was instituting the new measure after capitulating to ultra-Orthodox pressure, saying he was, as ever, taking the necessary steps for the good of the nation.

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu said the high rate of positive coronavirus tests showed the virus was spreading widely and said the lockdown was “the lesser of two evils.”

He said he is “losing sleep” over the pandemic, and maintained that the government was forced to act after some hospitals warned of overload.

The government alone “won’t defeat the coronavirus,” said Gamzu.

“Only the Israelis, only you, can defeat the coronavirus,” he said, urging everyone to keep the rules.

“If we do it wisely, we can finish this in two or three weeks,” he added, referring to the lockdown measures

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