The government will use targeted school closures to help stem the recent spike in coronavirus cases, the Prime Minister’s Office announced on Wednesday.
Following consultations with Education Minister Yoav Gallant and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided that “any school where a virus case is diagnosed will close,” the PMO said.
According to the statement released by his office, Netanyahu “instructed the education minister to work on solutions for protecting and distancing students and teaching staff” and will continue to hold situation assessments in the coming days.
There has been a sharp increase in confirmed new virus cases in recent days, centering around schools nationwide.
According to the Health Ministry numbers released Wednesday evening, some 17,377 people have been diagnosed with the virus, up 92 from Tuesday evening. The number of active cases continued to grow, reaching 2,103, an increase of 48 over the previous day. There are currently 25 people on ventilators and 291 people have died.
At least five schools were shuttered Wednesday morning after students were diagnosed with coronavirus. In total, over 30 schools have been closed across the country in recent days, with some 10,000 students and staff forced into home quarantine. More than 200 people have been confirmed to have been infected in schools and kindergartens.
The Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem has been particularly hard hit, with some 160 students and staff members there found to be infected.
A growing number of parents have also been avoiding sending their kids to school as a result of the wave of infections. Some schools have independently implemented a previously scrapped system of keeping students in separate, smaller groups that stay away from each other to limit any potential wave of infections.
The Health Ministry, which has reportedly been pushing to reintroduce a nationwide closure of schools, says the rising number of infections among students is the primary factor in Israel’s recent spike in cases.
Newly appointed Health Minister Yuli Edelstein warned Sunday of a possible new lockdown, saying the rate of positive results out of all daily coronavirus tests was now five times higher than several days ago.
Netanyahu, however, replied at the time that it was too early to tell whether the upward trend in infections would warrant the reimposition of lockdowns.
Education Minister Gallant has pushed back against a nationwide closure of schools, saying the current infection rates do not justify doing so and calling such a move “an irresponsible blow to students, parents and teachers.”
Gallant was also quoted by Hebrew media reports lashing out at the Health Ministry, accusing it of “sowing panic,” and saying there was no current need for widespread school closures.
Israelis schools began reopening in stages last month. On May 3, the first day of classes, just 60 percent of eligible students attended, a number that later increased before dropping in the wake of the current surge in COVID-19 cases.