Israel confirmed four more fatalities from the novel coronavirus Wednesday, bringing the country’s death toll to 264.   

The Health Ministry said that 41 more cases were registered over the past 24 hours, raising the total to 16,548. 

It said 61 patients remain in critical condition while 12,232 have recovered from the virus. 

Israel began taking measures to stem the spread of COVID-19 in late February, initially barring the entry of non-residents arriving from virus hotspots and gradually imposing a near-total air travel ban. 

It also closed all educational institutions and prohibited citizens from leaving their homes except to buy food and medicines or visit a hospital. 

A slowdown in new cases over the past few days prompted Tel Aviv to start easing restrictions on movement. 

The government approved several measures last week, including the reopening of some businesses and schools for children with special educational needs and a resumption of small-scale prayer gatherings. 

Social distancing rules, however, remain in force and wearing face masks in public is still mandatory. 

After originating in Wuhan, China last December, COVID-19 has spread to at least 188 countries and regions, with Europe and the US currently the worst hit. 

The pandemic has killed more than 297,000 people worldwide with more than 4.34 million confirmed cases, while recoveries have surpassed 1.54 million, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University of the US.  

*Writing by Fahri Aksut

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