Israel's coronavirus case tally exceeds 15,000, death toll at 200
A swab to be used for testing for coronavirus. (File photo: Reuters/David Ryder)

Israel's coronavirus tally came to 15,403 over the weekend, with the death toll reaching 200, the Health Ministry confirmed Sunday.

According to the ministry, as of Sunday morning, 132 patients were in serious condition while some 6,602 Israelis have recovered from the virus.

Israelis began their week with partial relief from lockdown measures, as the government approved a series of steps to ease the restrictions imposed on public life.

Most stores selling nonessential goods were allowed to open, as well as stores in strip malls, although malls will remain closed at this time.

Police were ordered to fine anyone out in public without a face mask, the wearing of which was made mandatory last week.

Also on Sunday, Health Ministry Director Moshe Bar Siman-Tov gave a series of interviews to Israeli media and addressed the criticism leveled at the ministry over its chaotic decision-making process.

Bar Siman-Tov told public broadcaster KAN 11 News that he believes reopening IKEA stores amid the pandemic was a mistake, but stressed that the rumors suggesting the decision was taken over the Israeli franchisee's close ties to Health Minister Yakov Litzman were false.

"These were decisions taken by relevant professionals and following a request from the Finance Ministry, with no connection to Minister Litzman," he said.

Speaking later with Army Radio, he commented on what is perceived as the arbitrary way in which decisions regarding which businesses can and cannot reopen, saying that "for now, all stores can open."

The ministry, he added, is still seeking ways to resume the education system's operations. "There will be intense discussions throughout this week to try and find the model through which we may resume the schools' operations, as well as activity in malls."

Bar Siman-Tov further agreed that part of the criticism leveled at the Health Ministry was justified. "We're aware that there are things we need to improve and we're working on it," he said.

Still, he warned that the public and the economy must brace for a resurgence of the coronavirus during next winter.

Speaking with Channel 12 News, Bar Siman-Tov said that "there are fears that we have to be prepared for a wave that would come in the winter and will comprise both coronavirus and the flu."

The media blitz came on the heels of Health Minister Yakov Litzman's announcement on Saturday night that he will be leaving his post in favor of the Housing Ministry.

United Torah Judaism's leader had previously stated he would not give up the portfolio his party has been holding since 2009, but according to sources privy to the move, Litzman felt that the scathing criticism he has been facing over his office's handling of the coronavirus crisis meant the public has lost confidence in his ability to serve as health minister.

Gerrer Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter, the spiritual leader of UJT had endorsed the change in portfolio, allowing Litzman to make the move.

It is unclear at this time who will become the next health minister.

Informing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his decision, Litzman said he would like to turn his attention to "solving the housing crisis."

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