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Israel’s coronavirus deaths top 3,000

Israel marked a grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic, with 3,004 people now having died of the virus.

Just since midnight last night, the Israeli Health Ministry said 1,879 more people have contracted the disease at a 3.2% positivity rate. 375 patients are listed as in critical condition, 130 of whom are on respirators.

This follows yesterday’s findings of 2,279 new cases in a rapidly-rising infection level, topping 2,000 daily diagnoses for the first time since 14 October.

The government has previously warned that new restrictions to curb further spread of the infection would be imposed if daily diagnoses reach 2,500. The policy would involve the closure of all venues that interact with the public for a 3-week minimum, as well and educational facilities in “red” or “orange” locations.

The vast majority of active cases are in Jerusalem (3,241), followed by Haifa (564), Tel Aviv (533), Petah Tiqva (469), Nazareth (460), Sakhnin (374), Shefar’am (319) and Tamra (313). Other hot spots for the disease are Be’er Sheva, Holon, Rishon Lezion, Netanya, Bnei Brak, Umm al-Fahm, Ashdod and Majdal Shams.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has authorized the continuation of clinical trials for the “BriLife” COVID-19 vaccine developed by the Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR), a secretive national research facility that is overseen by the Israeli Ministry of Defense (IMOD). The approval comes following the successful completion of the first phase, which was tested on a group of 80 people.

”BriLife” is an anagram of the Hebrew word “bruit” for “health,” combined with the nation’s abbreviation of “iL” to symbolize “Israeli Life.”

According to a Defense Ministry statement, both internal and external expert committees recommended the approval of the second phase since no significant side effects were identified during phase 1, and “as such, the institute completed all the necessary preparations and is ready for the immediate launch of the second phase.”

The second phase of the trial will be conducted over a period of several months, and “include extensive safety tests with the participation of 1,000 healthy volunteers aged 18 and over.” According to the IMod, “in this phase, scientists aim to complete vaccine safety precautions, determine effective dosage, and further determine the vaccine’s effectiveness.” The “BriLife” vaccine will be administered first at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center and the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv before the trial is expanded to eventually include other medical facilities across Israel.

The IIBR intends that upon similar success, Phase 3 of “a large-scale trial” to test the effectiveness of the vaccine will include participation of up to 30,000 volunteers, both in Israel and abroad.

If all goes as planned, the Israeli vaccine could be ready for the general public by the end of next summer.

The scientists of the IIBR are Israel’s ‘elite unit,’ and have taken on an extremely important task – saving human lives,” said Israeli Alternate Premier and Defense Minister Benny Gantz in a statement, adding, “I see great importance in the development of an Israeli vaccine that will continue to serve Israeli society for years to come.”

It is now expected that administration of the Pfizer vaccine that Israel has received will begin next Sunday, 20 December to public health workers. Vaccination of the elderly and individuals ‘at risk’ is currently slated to being a week later, on 27 December.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had previously declared that he will also be among the first to receive the shot along with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein. The Prime Minister is currently in quarantine after having met with the President of the Supreme Court of his Likud party, Michael Kleiner, who was later diagnosed with COVID-19.

The Prime Minister’s Media Advisor’s issued a communique explaining that “Pursuant to an epidemiological investigation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will enter quarantine until Friday after he met with a confirmed coronavirus carrier. The Prime Minister underwent coronavirus tests yesterday and today; the results were negative.”