Israelis could face additional restrictions as infection rate climbs

Written by on November 9, 2020

Netanyahu at dedication of new airport testing lab: ‘If morbidity rises, it rises like a plane or a missile taking off into the sky’

Israelis, wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus, shop for grocery at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on July 14, 2020. Israel has seen a spike of new COVID-19 cases bringing the authorities to reimpose restrictions to halt the spread of the virus (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Israelis, wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus, shop for grocery at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on July 14, 2020. Israel has seen a spike of new COVID-19 cases bringing the authorities to reimpose restrictions to halt the spread of the virus

(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The country could be facing a third lockdown at worse and another set of restrictions at best, as the infection rate is once again climbing, according to the Health Ministry.

The reproduction rate has hit one, according to Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of Public Health Services at the Health Ministry, which means the country needs to “operate with caution,” she said Monday at the Knesset.

The reproduction rate – the R – is the number of people a sick person infects. The Health Ministry has said that opening up the economy would be frozen if this rate hit between 0.8 and one. Anything over one would mean that Israel will take steps backwards.

Alroy-Preis said that health officials cannot say with certainty that the virus is under control, so whereas Israel must open up the economy and schools, “we simply need to do so carefully.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a subtle warning to the public on Monday, too, when he spoke at the opening of a long-awaited coronavirus testing lab at Ben-Gurion Airport’s Terminal 3.

“We went from the first stage to the second stage, the morbidity is starting to rise, so we will decide tomorrow or the day after tomorrow about the third stage,” the prime minister said. “If there is no improvement in the indices, we will not start the third stage.

“We will take steps together to ensure that morbidity does not rise, because if morbidity rises, it rises like a plane or a missile taking off into the sky,” he said. “It destroys the economy, and it comes at a huge price in the lives and health of citizens.”

THE CORONAVIRUS National Information and Knowledge Center released a report on Monday that predicts an increase in morbidity rates in the coming days, as the weather cools and people spend more time in enclosed spaces, unless an unforeseen change occurs.

According to the report, the data from the last two weeks show that, although the infection rate has been decreasing, this decrease is slowing due to an increase in the infection reproduction rate across the country.

Some 526 people were diagnosed with coronavirus on Sunday, plus another 375 the day before. Out of 22,096 people screened, some 2.4% tested positive – a sharp increase from the 1.6% that tested positive on November 5.

There were 332 people in serious condition at press time, including 144 who were intubated. The death toll stood at 2,676.

Given that numerous restrictions have been relaxed recently – children in the lower grades have returned to school, one-on-one practitioners such as hairdressers have been allowed to go back to work and, on Sunday, retail stores on the street have been able to open – the report said that the result of this relaxation on the rate of infection will not be clear for some time.

The coronavirus cabinet is expected to convene later this week to make a final decision about what comes next.

NONETHELESS, government officials appeared joyful on Monday at the opening of the “Check2Fly” airport lab, which was inaugurated at an event attended by Netanyahu, Transportation Minister Miri Regev and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein.

Check2Fly is a joint project of Omega, a coronavirus testing company, and Haifa’s Rambam Health Care Campus, with standard test results delivered within 14 hours for about NIS 45. Rapid results will be available in about four hours for around NIS 135.

The prime minister joked with staff and technicians at the testing site, turning down the opportunity to be tested on the spot – he is tested regularly – saying, in English, “I gave at the office.”

A staff member told the prime minister that 20,000 people a day could be tested, both travelers leaving Israel and entering the country, and described how tests would be taken to a lab and how the results would be returned.

One technician wore a mask that had slipped off his nose; the prime minister admonished him to put it back on properly.

Netanyahu spoke about a minority of people who do not follow the rules and said that “no one wants to be a victim” of their lack of responsibility. He advised people to treat everyone they encountered as if they were a carrier of the virus.

Regev said that, “when I took over my position, I promised we would create a lab at the airport that would give fast results for travelers leaving and entering the country” and that she is happy that it was now opening.

Given the low number of current travelers, she said that the results could be obtained in five to six hours instead of 14 for the standard tests, but that would change as the skies opened to more air traffic.

Eventually, she said, with permission from the Health Ministry, the more expensive, rapid test could yield results in two hours, adding that the only airport lab that could give similarly fast results is in Japan.

She pointed to Dubai and the Seychelles Islands as two green destinations that would currently accept Israeli travelers.

Monday night, the Health Ministry added China to the list of green countries that Israelis can travel to and return from without quarantine.

The others include Australia, Uruguay, the United Arab Emirates, Seychelles, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, Norway, New Zealand, Singapore, Fiji, Finland, Cuba, South Korea, Rwanda and Thailand.

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