image Photo: Flash90

Israel strives to lower COVID-19 morbidity surge

Israel set a new world record in the daily coronavirus infection rate per capita yesterday when 3,140 people tested positive within just 24 hours.

A total of 125,755 Israelis have contracted the disease since outbreak of the pandemic, according to the official compilation of Health Ministry data. 25,277 are currently diagnosed as ‘active carriers,’ of whom 828 are hospitalized.

The COVID-19 mortality rate has also relentlessly risen to claim the lives of 991 Israelis, as of 11:30 this morning. The average age of the deceased is 80.3.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that due to the “very dramatic increase” of cases amid the “very high but stable level of morbity” over the entire last month, the government’s so-called Corona Cabinet will implement new restrictions in an “immediate effort to block this increase in morbidity.”

Steps include a program set to begin on 6 September, in which communities are classified according to the level of outbreak by a color system. “Green” will be used to designate least contaminated areas with no restrictions in effect, “Yellow” would indicate minor restrictions, “Orange” are locations where significant restrictions will be imposed, and “Red” will be used to determine where to enact significant restrictions including full lockdowns.

“We made a decision to enact lockdowns on the Red Cities from which infection is spreading – both within the cities themselves, and to the rest of the population of Israel,” said Prime Minister Netanyahu, appealing for “the cooperation of every Israeli citizen in order to block this morbidity. It is important for the health of each and every one of you.”

Israel’s Red Cities so far include Tiberias, Beitar illit, Umm al-Fahm and Kfar Qasim. It is also interesting to note that predominantly Ultra-Orthodox Jewish or Arab sectors are contending with the highest infection rates.

Director General of the Health Ministry, Professor Hezi Halevi,  said that “some aspects need to be organized in the legal aspect, so we continue to organize our capacity to implement a restricted closure or restricted restrictions that I assume will be at the beginning of next week.”

A senior Health Ministry source revealed to TV7 that personnel have been instructed to prepare for a nationwide lockdown that would involve the closure of indoor shopping malls, markets and restaurants and a ban on large scale events and performances. She further revealed that while the restrictions on Red Cities are expected to be effectuated this coming Monday in accordance with the prevailing view that there is no alternative to a comprehensive lockdown nationwide to limit the contagion.

In a meeting of Israel’s top economists, Prime Minister Netanyahu highlighted Jerusalem’s parallel’ efforts to navigate the balance between a healthy public and a healthy economy. “In parallel to the steps related to health and saving lives, we are also talking about strengthening the economy. Even though we were informed of an increase, even a surprising one, in the State of Israel’s revenues for August, we know that there are still major difficulties. We are constantly discussing additional steps – negative income tax and other things that we are discussing, in order to provide more and more solutions to the citizens of Israel and businesses in Israel. We are not letting up even for a moment,” he said.

Echoing those statements, Finance Minister Yisrael Katz stated that “The August data was good even in relation to the pre-corona situation in most sectors. This is no wonder. We have now provided the Israeli economy, to 4.5 million Israelis who used to fly overseas, with open skies. Today they are with the open ground in Israel; they are here and accelerating activity. I very much hope that we will achieve two goals: Allowing for a lowering of morbidity and keeping the economy open.”

3,833,000 Israelis are currently employed out of the overall workforce of 4,075,000, according to the Bureau of Statistics; while about 241,000 are registered as unemployed, and nearly 504,000 are on leave without pay as a direct result of COVID-19.

In related developments, Israel’s security establishment has been monitoring Gaza, where the Islamist Hamas leaders have been unable to control the contagion unlike in the immediate outbreak of the disease. Active cases in the Palestinian territory spiked 11-eleven-fold in just over a week, from 51 to 581 as of this afternoon. 83 people tested positive for the virus in a single day, 79 of whom are not in official quarantine facilities. The number of patients hospitalized in moderate and serious condition has begun to rise rapidly in the densely populated enclave, and there have been 5 deaths.

Israeli defense officials believe that the coronavirus surge in the Gaza Strip significantly influenced the recent agreement by Hamas for a truce with Israel to deescalate hostilities, which also included an aid package from Qatar for use to combat COVID-19.

Israel’s security establishment is preparing amid concern that increasing pressure by Gaza inhabitants over the worsening health crisis could lead Hamas to resume cross-border terrorism. Earlier this week the Islamist organization officially declared an ultimatum of two months for implementation of the ceasefire arrangement, in an apparent signal that it may also be planning to renew violent activity against Israel.