The death toll in Israel from the novel coronavirus has risen to 219 after four more people died, the Health Ministry said Thursday.

According to the ministry, 88 new cases were reported in the country, bringing the tally to 15,870.

It said 117 patients remain in critical condition, while at least 8,233 have recovered and been discharged from hospitals so far.

Israel started taking measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus in late February, initially barring 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 supplies and medicines or visit a hospital.

A dramatic slowdown in new cases over the past few days — the figure plunged from 345 this past Saturday to just 23 on Monday — has prompted Tel Aviv to start easing movement restrictions.

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.

Since first appearing China last December, the novel coronavirus has spread to at least 185 countries and regions, with the US and Europe the hardest-hit areas.

More than 3.20 million cases have been reported worldwide, with the death toll nearing 228,000 and almost 983,000 recoveries, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the US.

*Writing by Fahri Aksut and Zehra Nur Duz

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