Israel records over 200 new daily coronavirus cases 

What Happened: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned of the re-imposition of social distancing restrictions if new coronavirus cases continue to rise, as Israel recorded over 200 new infections in a day for the first time since late April.

  • Speaking at televised press conference with Finance Minister Yisrael Katz and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein from the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said: “We loosened the restrictions on the economy but what happened was that we began to go up [in cases]. We have already passed the line from yesterday of about 230 cases … the increase is not as sharp as we had previously but it is too sharp … therefore, we must stop this increase in time. If it continues, we will have to reimpose the restrictions and then the economy will also stop of course.”
  • He repeated his call for Israelis to wear masks, maintain distance from another and wash their hands, saying that: “I understand the difficulty. It is challenging for all of us. It also challenges me. I am asking you to do what I have been taking strict care to do in recent days. I am asking you to be mindful of distance, masks and hands. I know that nobody wants to be the one who pesters but tell others ‘Be mindful of distance, masks and hands.’ I am quite serious.”
  • The number of active cases in Israel is 3,019, including 34 in serious condition, 24 of whom are on ventilators. The number of deaths is 300, which means Israel has a mortality rate of 1.6 per cent.
  • Speaking after Netanyahu, Health Minister Edelstein said that he was not in favour of ordering fresh closures of businesses. He added that while “the easiest thing for me is to lead a line of closures,” he would first tackle the virus by increasing testing. However, he warned that the rise in the number of tests to some 16,000 a day has created a “traffic jam” at medical laboratories processing the tests, but vowed to work toward “significantly shortening” the time it takes to inform people of their results.

Context: Netanyahu described the current pace of new infections as similar to that at the start of the pandemic.

  • On 22 March Israel reported 188 cases. By 31 March, that number had risen to 663, a 252 per cent increase. “The distance between 200 and the peak was 10 days away,” Netanyahu said. “If it continues, we will restore restrictions, and the economy will stop.”
  • Yesterday, the specially-formed coronavirus cabinet designated several Bedouin towns in the South and areas of southern Tel Aviv where many foreign workers as “red zones,” meaning they face an immediate lockdown.
  • The Education Ministry reported Thursday evening that 460 students and faculty have tested positive for coronavirus, and 25,517 are in isolation. Some 165 schools are closed.
  • Data from the Israeli Employment Service last night showed that 323,000 employees have returned to work since restrictions were first eased on 19 April. Yesterday, Finance Minister Israel Katz announced that workers aged over 67 who are yet to return to the workforce will receive an additional grant of NIS 4,000, and individuals eligible for negative income tax will immediately receive all financial aid previously set to be paid over the next year.
  • The chairman of the Association of Public Health Physicians, Prof. Hagai Levine, told Kan Radio this morning that the rise in cases had been anticipated in light of the economy restarting, and that responses of “one extreme or the other” must stop. He stressed that not only the number of newly infected should be examined, but also the number of those in serious condition and he said that tests must be conducted continuously in order to detect hotspots and to take strict measures is such places.
  • Writing in Haaretz, Amos Harel says a second wave could “have ruinous long-term consequences for the resilience of Israeli democracy. More immediately, the last vestiges of the public’s trust in the government’s coronavirus policy are being eroded. If a broad second wave of the pandemic strikes Israel, the problem could be serious.

Looking ahead: The coronavirus cabinet refrained yesterday from issuing blanket restrictions on the country, so as not to harm the economic recovery. However, it agreed to monitor the situation and reconvene next week, suggesting that were cases to continue to rise, the government will be forced to reimpose restrictions once again.

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