The reopening of Israel’s schools and economy, following declining infection rates, seemed at risk on Sunday amid reports of a resurgence of the coronavirus.
In Yerushalayim’s Gymnasia High School, all teachers and students were told to enter quarantine for over a week after over 100 people there contracted COVID-19 in the most serious outbreak in a month. According to the Kan public broadcaster, there were 134 new cases linked to the high school, but this was not immediately confirmed by the Health Ministry.
The closure of 17 other schools and day care centers around the country due to new cases of the virus has raised concerns of a potential second wave while the reopening is only partially complete, according to Channel 12.
Schools in Holon, Beersheva and Telz Stone reported cases.
But Cabinet ministers did not believe the situation justified a general closure.
“There is no reason that due to an incident in Yerushalayim, we should close down [schools in] Kiryat Shmonah or Eilat,” Education Minister Yoav Gallant told Army Radio on Sunday. “The problem is not with schools, but with adherence to the rules.”
But officials acknowledged that another round of lockdowns might be necessary in the coming days, if the numbers continue to rise.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said the rate of positive results out of all daily coronavirus tests was now five times higher than several days ago. At the cabinet meeting, Edelstein added, “Either it all turns out to be okay, or we will be back under lockdown, and much faster than people think.”
“I hear people asking, ‘What is the panic about? This is just an isolated incident and it has nothing to do with me,’” he said. “I also hear voices asking, ‘What does a 40-person increase matter in a country of nine million?’ But even if you disregard the number of sick in the Gymnasia school, we see there is an increase.”
Subsequently, Edelstein announced an expansion of the criteria that determine which citizens are eligible to get tested for the coronavirus. Until now, almost all testing has been conducted only on those with symptoms of the virus; but from here on, even those who are not showing symptoms but who were in contact with a carrier should get tested.
Also on Sunday, former Health Ministry director Gabi Barabash had his say on the situation.
“No other country opened schools the way we did, with 30 kids in classrooms,” he told Channel 12.
“I don’t think we’ll experience a second wave. This isn’t 1918,” Barabash said. “We are going to have to live with this virus. It’s not going away.”
“Apart from the outbreak in Yerushalayim, it’s bubbling all over the country. A case here. A case there. It’s very worrying. I don’t think we’re going to have to go back to lockdowns. Proper social-distancing is apparently enough — if we stick to it,” he stipulated. Barabash’s name had been put forth by sources in Gantz’s Blue and White party as a “medical professional” for the post of Health Minister, but lost out to Edelstein, a senior Likud MK who has no medical credentials.
Israel had 1,917 active cases as of Motzoei Shabbos, with a majority under medical care at home and just 116 in hospitals. Of those cases, 36 were in serious condition, with 34 requiring mechanical ventilation.
Since the outbreak reached the country earlier this year, 284 people have died of the virus.