Israel on Sunday saw its coronavirus reproduction number creep up to 0.99, despite the subdued Purim holiday, the third nationwide closure, and the success of its lauded vaccination campaign which has already fully inoculated over 3 million Israelis.
The reproduction or R number signifies how many other people someone who carries the virus has infected. A number lower than 1 indicates that the spread of the virus is in decline. The R number had dropped to 0.79 last Sunday but has been climbing slowly since then.
Currently, the R number in the Arab community stands at 1.12, in the ultra-Orthodox sector it is 0.81 and among the general population it is 0.96.
Israel has been emerging from its third nationwide lockdown at the start of the month, with some school students returning and businesses reopening.
But coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash warned Sunday that a further rise in the R number could jeopardize any further steps to end restrictions such as the return of children in grades 7-10 and reopening of cafes and restaurants on March 7.
"If the R number remains as it is today then the [steps] will be possible, borderline but possible," Ash said.
"If it goes beyond that, however, we will have to carefully consider the situation."
According to Ash, any decision on whether to reopen further would take into account other variables such as the number of COVID patients in serious condition.
This number has recently fallen in Israel, which has been attributed to the widespread vaccine rollout, primarily among older citizens.
There are currently 40,108 active coronavirus patients in Israel. The number includes 776 people in serious condition, with 241 connected to ventilators.
Ash said that despite leaning towards easing restrictions, the government does not yet know the impact of the recent reopening of the economy on the nationwide infection rate.
He said that the next steps out of lockdown may be kept to a further reopening of the education system.
"Education is our first priority," Ash said. "Trade is our second priority. As for restaurants, it may be possible to find solutions such as opening but only allowing outside seating."
Ash also said it was currently too early to determine whether there would be restrictions put in place for the Passover holiday, which begins on March 27.
"Right now I have a very hard time predicting what may happen during Passover," he said.
"Our intention is of course to facilitate [reopening]. Is that something we will be able to do? I don't know."
The coronavirus czar said that the large-scale violations of Purim health restrictions would cause the infection rate to rise.
"There will no doubt be serious consequences that we will see in two weeks," Ash said, referring to the images of hundred of people gathering in the streets to celebrate the festival.
"I believe that due to the violations, we will see an increase in the R number, alongside additional cases," he said.
The Health Ministry said Sunday morning that 1,429 new coronavirus cases had been diagnosed in the previous 24 hours. With 24,291 tests conducted, the contagion rate currently stands at 5.8%.
Since the onset of the pandemic, 5,738 people have died due to coronavirus complications in Israel.