Total virus deaths jump by 42 to 2,799 amid worrying infection trend

Israel’s coronavirus death toll spiked by 42 on Sunday to 2,799, as infection data pointed to a worrying trend in increased spread of the disease with Israel gradually emerging from its second nationwide lockdown.

The reason for the spike in fatalities was not clear. A Health Ministry spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for clarification, but it appeared that the ministry had retroactively added a number of uncounted deaths from the past week to Sunday’s total.

In mid-October, the daily death rate climbed to over 40 a day on several days, but since November 3, there have been fewer than 20 deaths each day.

There were 384 new confirmed infections as of Sunday evening, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 328,918, according to Health Ministry statistics.

There were 8,232 active cases, a drop in 300 since Thursday, with 299 patients in serious condition, and 121 on ventilators.

The positive test rate on Saturday was 2.8 percent, out of 15,060 tests carried out. The positivity rate has generally hovered around the 1.5% mark over the past few weeks, with 40,000-50,000 tests conducted daily last week. Testing numbers generally drop over the weekend, causing the positivity rate to rise.

The figures came as the country’s military-run coronavirus taskforce on Sunday warned that for the first time in a month and a half, the previous week had seen a rise in the number of patients hospitalized and those newly defined to be in serious condition.

The taskforce said that a continued easing of restrictions would lead to a rise in the morbidity rate.

The transmission rate rose above 1 in the last days of October for the first time since a national lockdown began to be rolled back earlier in the month, and continued to rise before slackening slightly in early November. The figures released Sunday, which are based on new case numbers from 10 days earlier due to the virus’s incubation period, showed the figure on the rise again.

Health care workers take virus test samples at a testing site near Eilat, on November 19, 2020. (Flash90)

On October 15, the coronavirus cabinet decided that the lockdown exit should only start if the transmission rate is under 0.8. Under the Health Ministry’s plan, rollback measures are supposed to be halted if the rate rises. A transmission rate of over 1 indicates that the case numbers will begin to expand exponentially.

Alongside the worrying statistics, Israelis had good news on the vaccine front in the past couple weeks, with officials negotiating deals with the pharma companies Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.

Israel is also in talks with Russia to receive its Sputnik V vaccine, though some experts have questioned its opaque certification process.

However, none of the deals guarantees a deadline for the arrival of the agreed-upon vaccines, and with mass global demand, it is still not clear how many vials Israel will get, and when.

Israel is also working on a homegrown vaccine, though it is currently only in phase 1 trials and its development is expected to take months longer than the foreign candidates. Channel 12 reported Friday that it will likely be available to the public this summer.

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