Government trims tally of seriously ill after denying COVID numbers inflated

The Health Ministry denied accusations in Israeli media reports that it had inflated the number of COVID-19 patients in serious condition, but also lowered its count of seriously ill by nearly a quarter on Thursday.

Data published by the ministry late Thursday showed 37 patients hospitalized with serious COVID-19 infections, down from 46 patients it had reported Thursday morning. It was the first time the number of seriously ill patients has dropped since June 27, when it fell from 22 to 20.

The numbers came hours after the ministry pushed back vociferously against reports by two media outlets that it had inflated the number of seriously ill.  On Thursday morning, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily said the number was actually 27 and cited its own data compiled from hospitals across the country. Channel 12 did the same and concluded that there were 32 serious cases.

In response, the ministry lashed out at Yedioth on Thursday afternoon, accusing its reporter of “not checking the details in depth, thus misleading the public.”

The ministry said its data includes patients who are no longer infected with COVID but are still hospitalized in serious condition. It added that it checks its figures three times a day and that it is regularly in touch with hospital representatives.

“The figures published by the Yedioth Ahronoth reporter were checked again with hospitals… and it was found they were incorrect, to put it mildly,” the ministry said in a statement.

“In order to avoid similar mistakes… it is recommended [that news outlets] rely on official data that has been thoroughly reviewed by the Health Ministry,” it added.

A medical worker tests an Israeli youth for coronavirus at a basketball court turned into a coronavirus testing center in Binyamina, on June 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Pressed on the unexplained drop in numbers just hours later, Health Ministry director general Chezy Levy insisted to Channel 12 that his office’s figures “are not made up.” He said they were based on analyses of hospital statistics updated multiple times a day.

While admitting that “here and there mistakes are made,” Levy claimed the Health Ministry has used the same definition for designating seriously-ill patients since the start of the pandemic.

Israel has seen a surge in new cases of the coronavirus in recent weeks, but it has not been accompanied by an expected increase in hospitalizations or deaths. From June 28 to Thursday morning, the number of active coronavirus cases jumped from 1,254 to 3,568, but the number of patients hospitalized in serious condition rose only from 22 to 46, according to the official Health Ministry numbers.

Thursday also saw the first deaths attributed to the coronavirus in over two weeks: an unvaccinated 48-year-old man who had been hospitalized at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon and an 86-year-old man hospitalized at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, who had received both vaccine shots.

However, official Health Ministry numbers released Thursday night only raised the toll by one, to 6,430 since the start of the pandemic.

The ministry said 523 new cases had been recorded Wednesday, almost equal to the number from a day earlier.

The resurgence of infections has been blamed on the ultra-infectious Delta variant, which a recent Israeli Health Ministry study claimed managed to penetrate Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine defenses over 35 percent of the time. The study, which also drew questions about the reliability of the Health Ministry’s statistics, found that the vaccine protected against serious illness some 93% of the time.

The ministry said that nearly 5.7 million people out of Israel’s population of roughly 9.3 million have received at least one vaccine shot, of whom close to 5.2 million have been fully vaccinated.

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