School outbreak in north: 90% of kids said to have symptoms

After COVID case found at show, all attendees briefly ordered to quarantine

Ministry takes unusual step amid fears Beit She’an case was linked to Delta strain, but later walks back the decision

Illustrative: A healthcare worker takes swab samples from Israelis at a coronavirus drive-thru testing station in the central city of Ramle on April 18, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Illustrative: A healthcare worker takes swab samples from Israelis at a coronavirus drive-thru testing station in the central city of Ramle on April 18, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

In an unusual decision on Sunday, the Health Ministry announced that everyone who attended a performance in Beit She’an last week, including those who were vaccinated or have recovered from the coronavirus, were required to quarantine after an individual present was found to be infected.

The Health Ministry said the exceptional announcement was made amid fears the virus carrier was linked to an individual who recently returned from abroad. It was not clarified if there was any concern that the infected individual had broken any regulations.

Later in the day the ministry canceled the directive, only recommending those present take a virus test.

Those who came into direct contact with the individual who are neither vaccinated nor recovered will still need to quarantine.

Under current regulations, those who have been fully vaccinated or have recovered from the virus are exempt from quarantine requirements.

However, all of those present at the show at Kimron Hall on the evening of June 17 were briefly instructed to immediately enter isolation for 14 days.

The announcement came amid growing concerns over outbreaks of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, first identified in India, which is more contagious than other variants and may be better able to bypass vaccines.

A military taskforce warned Sunday that the variant could be 60 percent more transmissible than the British variant that is currently the dominant strain in Israel, and could see two and a half times as many patients requiring hospital care.

However, the report stated, the Pfizer vaccine used in Israel apparently prevents the vast majority of serious cases.

Israeli teen Ella, 14, receives a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Maccabi Healthcare Services in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on June 6, 2021, as Israel begins coronavirus vaccination campaign for 12 to 15-year-olds. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

A senior health official told the Kan public broadcaster that the Pfizer vaccine was thought to be 88% effective against the Delta variant, compared to 96% effective against the British strain, but noted that some 35% of the population in Israel remains unvaccinated.

The Military Intelligence taskforce also said Israel’s coronavirus transmission rate had risen sharply to 1.5.

The basic reproduction number, or R-number, is the number of new cases stemming from each coronavirus infection, or the number of people who caught the virus from each infected person. Any number lower than 1 means the pandemic is slowing down, while a number above 1 means it is expanding. The figures are based on new case numbers from 10 days earlier due to the virus’s incubation period.

The warnings came as the Health Ministry reinstated the requirement to wear masks in schools in the Modiin-Maccabim-Reut municipality and in the town of Binyamina starting Sunday. The reimposed regulation applies to all areas of schools, both indoors and outdoors, the ministry said in a statement. Additionally, Modiin Mayor Haim Bibas brought back the indoor mask mandate throughout the city after it was dropped nationwide last week.

The requirement came a day after it was announced that 44 students at two schools in the northern town of Binyamina tested positive for the coronavirus. Earlier in the week, 15 sixth-graders were found to be infected in the central city of Modiin.

A senior health official told the Kan public broadcaster that 90% of the students who tested positive in Binyamina were showing symptoms, but did not clarify if any of them were serious.

A UK study released last week said that younger people found to be carrying the Delta variant were often suffering from what they thought was a bad cold, with a headache and runny nose often cited as symptoms.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, initial tests indicate the outbreaks in Modiin and Binyamina were both of the Delta variant. The report said several vaccinated adults had been infected in the school outbreaks.

Illustrative: Israeli students wearing face masks return to school in Tel Aviv on April 18, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

According to reports, there were concerns that both school outbreaks could be linked to people recently returning from overseas travel without adhering to quarantine rules. The Health Ministry currently recommends against any non-essential travel.

Meanwhile, a school in Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’akov Ihud was shut down on Sunday amid concerns of a potential outbreak when the father of a student returned from a trip to Dubai and tested positive for the coronavirus, the Kipa website reported. The report said that the father was not suspected of breaking quarantine rules when he infected his children.

The Health Ministry is weighing reimposing certain COVID-19 restrictions on unvaccinated individuals returning from abroad, as well as those arriving from “high-risk” countries, amid fears of a renewed outbreak of the virus in the country, according to a Saturday television report.

Officials plan for unvaccinated individuals over the age of 14, and anyone arriving from countries deemed high risk, to be required to self-isolate at home with an electronic bracelet, Channel 12 news reported. Those who refuse the bracelet will be required to spend their isolation period in state-run quarantine hotels, according to the report.

Previous plans to use electronic bracelets to ensure self-isolation for arrivals were only partially enforced.

On June 1, Israel lifted nearly all remaining virus-related restrictions.

Health Ministry officials estimate that only some 70% of those arriving from abroad have been vaccinated, and with many not quarantining correctly, this may be cause for concern.

Kan reported Saturday that around a third of those who tested positive for the Delta variant after international travel were fully vaccinated. The report did not give a source for the figure or the actual number of people, and did not specify if any of them were symptomatic.

Passengers arriving on a flight from Frankfurt take part in the pilot program of wearing electronic bracelets upon arrival in Israel, on March 01, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

On Friday, the Health Ministry temporarily suspended the requirement for travelers entering Israel to be tested for the coronavirus upon arrival, following crowding at the airport as a bottleneck formed around passengers waiting to be swabbed.

At least 1,000 people entered without being tested, according to Kan, though those arriving from countries deemed high risk — Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico and Russia — were not allowed to skip the test even if vaccinated, according to Hebrew media reports.

A national inoculation drive has already seen over half the Israeli population vaccinated against COVID-19 and brought down new daily cases from thousands at the beginning of the year to just a handful in some days several weeks ago. However, that has gone up back to 46 people diagnosed on Saturday, a continuation of the trend seen in recent days of a slight rise in rates.

Health Ministry data published Sunday showed that while there are just 290 active virus patients in the country, the number is starting to rise. Since the start of the outbreak early last year 839,837 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Israel and 6,427 are known to have died of the disease.

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