Israel records 26 new virus deaths as lockdown to ease Sunday

Israel recorded 26 new coronavirus deaths over the past 30 hours, according to Health Ministry figures published Saturday evening, even as the number of daily new virus cases and the share of those found positive have continued to decline ahead of a partial reopening of the economy on Sunday. The lifting of some restrictions will come after a four-week national lockdown.

According to the Health Ministry, 1,469 people were diagnosed on Friday out of a total of 34,640 tests performed over the course of the day, a positive rate of 4.2 percent. This followed a positive rate of 4.5% on Thursday, with 1,608 new cases diagnosed out of 37,487 tests on Thursday. These were some of the lowest rates since July.

Meanwhile, the government was reported to be considering removing restrictions from all cities Sunday — including those with high infection rates that officials had planned to keep under closure.

With over 302,000 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, Israel currently has 35,212 active cases, including 689 in serious condition, 238 of whom are on ventilators. Another 210 virus patients are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms.

Clalit Health Services workers take swab samples for preschool and daycare staff members at a drive-thru coronavirus testing site in Lod, October 16, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The death toll, meanwhile, stood at 2,167 as of Saturday evening.

The latest figures match the government’s goal of reaching under 2,000 daily cases before easing some lockdown restrictions on Sunday.

Ministers agreed on Thursday to lift the limit on Israelis traveling more than one kilometer from home unless for specific permitted purposes; allow them to visit others’ homes so long as caps on gatherings are adhered to (10 indoors, 20 outdoors); reopen preschools and daycares; allow restaurants to serve takeout; permit businesses that don’t receive customers to open; allow Israelis to visit beaches and national parks; and reopen the Western Wall plaza and Temple Mount compound for worship under certain restrictions.

The government was expected to keep tighter restrictions on cities with high morbidity rates — a status currently largely limited to ultra-Orthodox cities. But ministers also agreed to allow daycares, preschools and kindergartens to reopen in virus hotspots after officials reportedly warned that failure to do so could cause a “civil revolt.”

Ahead of the reopening of preschools, widespread coronavirus testing was performed on Saturday for staff at kindergartens and daycares in a bid to prevent any fresh outbreaks.

Testing sites operated by the Magen David Adom ambulance service, the military’s Home Front Command and health maintenance organizations (HMO) were set up at dozens of sites across the country for the second consecutive day. Thousands of staff members were estimated to have been tested, according to Channel 12 news.

The first phase of reopening after a month-long nationwide closure is part of a Health Ministry plan for a gradual, several-month exit based on epidemiological benchmarks.

Israel has been under a national lockdown for the past month to contain a raging second wave of the pandemic, which at one point reached some 9,000 daily cases. Recent days have seen both the number of daily cases and the percentage of positive tests go down amid the sweeping restrictions on the public. The death toll is rising, however, crossing 2,000 on Sunday — just five weeks after it passed 1,000.

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