3 more virus deaths bring Israel’s toll to 295; over 100 schools shuttered

Health Ministry reports 46 new COVID-19 cases since Saturday morning; graduation ceremonies to be limited amid renewed outbreak

Israeli medical personnel take samples at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing facility in Ramat Hasharon near Tel Aviv, on June 1, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Israeli medical personnel take samples at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing facility in Ramat Hasharon near Tel Aviv, on June 1, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The Health Ministry on Saturday evening reported three more fatalities from the coronavirus, bringing the national death toll since the start of the pandemic to 295.

According to the ministry’s figures, there have been 17,752 recorded coronavirus infections in Israel overall, up 46 from the morning. Of the 2,407 active cases, 39 people were in serious condition, including 21 on ventilators.

Another 39 people were in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms. The ministry on Saturday also said over 16,000 tests had been conducted the day before.

No details were immediately released on the latest deaths.

After a sustained drop in the daily infection rate, Israel has seen a jump in new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, with health officials attributing much of the rise to schools.

Earlier Saturday, Channel 12 news reported that the outgoing director-general of the Health Ministry urged senior staff to operate under the assumption the country is in the midst of a fresh coronavirus outbreak, while acknowledging the magnitude of this “second wave” is unknown.

Moshe Bar Siman-Tov denied making the comments and told the network a second wave is not inevitable “if we operate properly.”

“But we are in the midst of a rise in cases. It is definitive, real and tangible, and it will take time for us to understand its full extent,” Bar Siman-Tov added.

Cleaning workers disinfect a classroom at the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem on June 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry said Saturday that 106 schools and daycare centers have been shuttered after students and teachers contracted the virus, up from 92 the day before.

It added that 330 teachers have tested positive for the virus. Thousands more were in quarantine.

The government said this week it would leave schools open, but use targeted closures anywhere a coronavirus case is found to help stem the recent spike in infections. Though classes resumed last month after a two-month closure, students and teachers are required to wear face masks and are supposed to keep to strict hygiene practices.

Because of the virus, the Education Ministry notified school administrators that upcoming graduation ceremonies will have to take place in a more limited fashion.

Each individual class will have its own ceremony, rather than entire grades being together for the event. The ministry said it is still weighing whether or not parents will be invited to the ceremonies.

Also Saturday, four lawmakers from the predominantly Arab Joint List were told to enter self-quarantine after MK Sami Abou Shahadeh, a member of the party, contracted the virus. The lawmakers were Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh and MKs Heba Yazbak, Aida Touma-Sliman and Mtanes Shihadeh.

Odeh was already in quarantine. It was not clear if the other three decided to self-isolate after Abou Shahadeh’s diagnosis.

Due to Abou Shahadeh’s infection, the Knesset said plenum meetings will be held in a restricted format and committee sessions will require the approval of Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin to convene.

MKs and ministers will only be allowed to bring two aides apiece and the Knesset said lawmakers who don’t need to go to the parliament building should refrain from doing so, according to the Ynet news site.

Joint List MK Sami Abou Shehadeh (Screen capture: YouTube)

The jump in new cases came after the daily infection rate steadily dropped through much of May, with Israel easing restrictions on movement, economic activity and gatherings that were put in place to contain the virus.

Officials on Sunday are expected to debate whether to resume train lines on Monday, as planned, or delay it further amid the rise in cases, according to Hebrew media reports.

Earlier on Saturday, Channel 13 news reported that nine of the new cases were residents and staff members at the Ahuzat Eyal assisted living facility in the central city of Or Yehuda. At the height of the outbreak, the novel coronavirus spread quickly in nursing homes around the country, where it was responsible for around one-third of the national death toll.

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