A Coronavirus Disaster Looms Over Israel, but Can Still Be Avoided

The number of coronavirus cases diagnosed daily has been rising for almost three weeks straight, since the last week of May. From around 20 new cases a day, the number has jumped to close to 200. The daily growth rate in the number of patients is seven to eight percent, meaning this number could double within about 10 days.

These figures explain the worried tone of senior health officials, including Tuesday’s warning by Prof. Siegal Sadetzki – generally the Health Ministry’s biggest pessimist – that Israel appears to be at the start of a second major wave of the virus. An official report released Tuesday said the recent rise in incidence of the illness encompasses many towns and is reminiscent of the initial outbreak in March, at the time of the Purim holiday.

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But even now, these conclusions seem a little premature. Most of the newly infected people are young; some are asymptomatic; and to a large extent, the rise in diagnosed cases reflects a major rise in testing due to a policy change made by the new health minister, Yuli Edelstein.

Moreover, while the percentage of positive tests has risen (from around one to 1.5 percent), it’s still much lower than the rate was in March (over five percent). The rate of increase in incidence of the illness is also lower than it was in March.

Finally, and apparently most importantly, there hasn’t yet been any dramatic change in the critical statistics. Both the number of patients in moderate to serious condition and the number placed on ventilators have increased only moderately, mainly inthe last few days.

Israelis with masks in Tel Aviv, March 2020Ofer Vaknin

Because seriously ill patients generally reach this stage only two to three weeks after catching the virus, this number may yet rise. But from here to a situation where the health system can’t cope, as reflected mainly in a shortage of ventilators and skilled personnel to treat the patients, the distance is great.

Health Ministry statistics released Tuesday show 258 new COVID-19 diagnoses in 24 hours. This is the highest daily rise in nearly two months, since April 23. Thirty-nine patients are suffering from severe cases, 29 of them on ventilators.