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Israel Struggles to Fight Second Wave of Virus Outbreak

Jewish ultra-Orthodox girls wear face masks during celebrations of the Jewish festival of Purim in Bnei Brak, Israel, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. The Jewish holiday of Purim commemorates the Jews' salvation from genocide in ancient Persia.
Jewish ultra-Orthodox girls wear face masks during celebrations of the Jewish festival of Purim in Bnei Brak, Israel, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. The Jewish holiday of Purim commemorates the Jews' salvation from genocide in ancient Persia.

JERUSALEM, Israel – Israel is scrambling to battle a second wave of virus infections sweeping across the country. After reopening the economy in May, Israel’s daily cases went from the double digits to now 1,200 to 1,400 new cases per day.  

So far, more than 38,670 people have been infected with the novel coronavirus and the outbreak has claimed 362 lives.

Although the Jewish State was initially praised as a model country for its 

rigorous response to the virus, health officials fear the situation is spiraling out of the control.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is just “a step away” from a full lockdown. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told Ynet news that he is calling for an immediate 10-day “breathing lockdown” that would still allow people to go to work.

“Better to treat this immediately with a bang and we’ll finish off this situation,” he said.

Several lockdowns came into effect on Friday in neighborhoods in five towns and cities struggling to keep the second wave under control. 

The Israeli government has little time to make critical decisions and leaders are sending the public mixed messages over how the country will react. After shutting down pools and gyms across the nation, divided government leaders held heated debates Monday over if these shutdowns were justified.  

Initially, Netanyahu’s spokesman announced that outdoor pools could open but gyms would remain shuttered. Shortly after this announcement, the Knesset coronavirus committee overruled this decision and voted to allow both facilities open again.

Immediately after the committee voted in opposition to Netanyahu, Likud member Miki Zohar called on the body to replace the head of the coronavirus committee.

Former Health Ministry chief Prof. Gabi Barbash told The Times of Israel the government went too far in easing coronavirus restrictions in May. While the government has not been vigilant in lowering infection rates, Barbash claims “management issues” are largely responsible for the intensity of this second wave. 

A poll published by Israel’s Channel 13 news shows that 61 percent of respondents are unhappy with how Netanyahu has handled the crisis, compared to 34 percent somewhat satisfied or satisfied. According to the channel, only around 30 percent were dissatisfied in April.

The number of daily tests have significantly increased compared to the first coronavirus wave and laboratories are struggling to keep up with the demand.

“All labs are in crisis, we are not going to get to the winter,” Esther Admon, head of the Labs Workers’ Unions, said during a meeting at The Knesset, as reported by Ynet. “There is an overload, and we can’t recruit workers.”

Meanwhile, nurses on the frontlines of the coronavirus battle are threatening to strike over complaints of being over-worked.

“The nurses are collapsing, they can’t anymore. The system will strike. Period. I don’t do empty threats,” Ilana Cohen, head of the nurses union, said according to Yedioth Ahronoth.

The Times of Israel reports that the country is also running low on an antiviral drug called Remdesivir, which has shown to help many serious COVID-19 cases.

 A Health Ministry spokesman said it is negotiating with the US company to get more of the drug. 

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Despite fears, new data shows that this new wave is different. Though infection rates have soared, the percentage of serious cases is much lower this time around, according to Channel 12.

The Clalit Research Institute, part of Clalit Health Services, Israel’s largest health organizations, revealed that this is largely because there are lower rates of infection among at-risk groups (older individuals with preexisting conditions.)  

The institute says at-risk groups are being more cautious during the second wave and are protecting themselves better from infection.

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