Corona cases hit 255, gov't mulls harsher public restrictions
A Magen David Adom emergency service member taking calls at the hotline call center set up for Israelis who may have contracted COVID-19. (Photo: Yehoshua Yosef)

The Health Ministry confirmed Monday that the number of coronavirus patients in Israel jumped to 255 on Monday.

At one point on Monday it said that the number spiked to 344, but then quickly retracted that figure, saying there was a glitch in the reporting system.

The now-retracted spike was the most dramatic daily increase so far in Israel. It was initially speculated that it could be attributed to more testing rather than a higher incidence of COVID-19, the respiratory disease linked to the novel strain.

Two patients are in serious condition and the rest are said to be showing little to no symptoms. So far, four Israelis have recovered from the COVID-19 virus.

Over 50,000 Israelis are currently under home quarantine, as are thousands of healthcare workers, including 950 doctors.

A ministry official said Sunday that there are concrete fears that over 2,500 Israelis have yet to be diagnosed.

As the disease spreads, Health Ministry Director General Moshe Siman Tov told Army Radio on Monday that stricter limitations will have to be imposed on the public to stem the outbreak.

"I wouldn't necessarily use the term 'closure' but we are going to spend a lot more time indoors. Our lifestyle has to change. Things we think are impossible now will seem routine in a few weeks," he said.

Israel is expected to receive advanced testing kits on Wednesday, which would allow laboratories to perform 4,000 coronavirus tests a day, compared to the hundreds they can currently perform.

On Sunday, the government approved a series of emergency regulations presented by Public Security Minister Gilad Erden seeking to protect public health during the coronavirus outbreak.

The measures include, among other things, imposing hefty fines on those who violate quarantine directives or public gathering orders, currently set at no more than 10 people per venue at the same time.

Fines will range from 3,000 to 5,000 shekels ($800-$1350), depending on the circumstances.

In addition, the ministers approved regulations designed to prevent the virus from spreading in the prison system. The prisoner population, being confined to a small space, is in greater risk to contract COVID-19.

Under the new regulations, arraignment hearings will take place without the physical presence of the detainees, and will be conducted via video conference. All visitations have been limited, including for lawyers. While the emergency regulations are in effect — an initial period of five weeks — prisoners will only be allowed to consult with their lawyers over the phone.

"In order to stop the spread of the coronavirus and protect public health, we must constantly initiate and change the way our internal security bodies operate. By doing so, we can win the war on the virus," Erdan said.

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