Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Health Ministry General Manager Professor Hezi Levy

By Assaf Golan, Maytal Yasur Beit-Or, and Eran Itzkovitz

Israeli Health Ministry Director General Hezi Levy said on Thursday that he doesn’t know if there will be a lockdown over Hanukkah, “but we are identifying an increase in morbidity, and it could lead to new restrictions.”

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Levy made the remarks at a special press conference following the decision by the so-called “Coronavirus Cabinet” to allow for Eilat and the Dead Sea to be designated as “tourism islands,” in addition to an easing of restrictions on the number of customers allowed inside stores and an opening of zoos.

“Today, 780 verified patients have been identified out of around 50,000 tests. There is a slight increase in morbidity,” he said, noting that the number had remained stable among younger members of the population.

“The rate of reproduction is now hovering around 1.08, a higher value than the target we set out for moving forward with the framework for easing restrictions. As for hospitalized [patients], there is a plateau in the number of serious patients, without any sharp increases or decreases,” he said.

Levy said that “absent a catastrophe,” fifth- and sixth-grade students would be allowed to return to in-person learning on Tuesday as planned. He called on the teachers of those students to be tested for the coronavirus before returning to school.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge claimed that states could avoid a lockdown if their citizens adhered to coronavirus guidelines. Lockdowns should be a “last resort,” he said. “There would be no need for lockdowns if 95 percent of people wore masks, instead of the [current] 60 percent,” he said.

He noted that hundreds of millions of people around the world are living under various kinds of lockdown, and that this is putting pressure on healthcare systems and leading to mass unemployment, an increase in psychological problems, drug use and gender-based violence. He noted that last week, more than 29,000 people died of the virus, or one person every 17 seconds, and that over the past two weeks, Europe has seen an 18 percent increase in coronavirus-related deaths.

While Kluge said that progress on developing a vaccine for the virus was encouraging, the world must not become complacent, as the vaccines would not be available over the winter, and as result, many countries could still see their healthcare systems collapse under the pressure of a sharp spike in infections.

As of Sunday morning, Israel’s total number of COVID-19 cases since the outbreak of the pandemic stood at 327,435, 8,508 of which were active. There were 318 people in serious condition, 120 of whom were on ventilators, and a national death toll of 2,757. By the end of Friday, before the weekend, when testing is sparse, the rate of infection was 1.8 percent.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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