Fewer than 100 virus cases recorded in a day, for first time in over a week

Health Ministry says 83 new cases diagnosed; Education Ministry announces end-of-school dates in July, setting up showdown with teachers’ unions

Students arrive at the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem on June 11, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Students arrive at the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem on June 11, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Sunday recorded 83 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the lowest rate in over a week, after top officials warned of a second wave of infection.

The figures marked the first time since June 6 that the number of new daily cases has dropped below 100, sparking hopes that infections may be slowing.

No new deaths were recorded with the toll remaining at 300. Of the 3,380 active cases there are 33 patients in serious condition, with 24 of them on ventilators, the ministry said. So far 15,375 people have recovered from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Since midnight, 4,791 virus tests were carried out, with 1.5 percent coming back positive, the ministry figures showed. On Saturday, there were 6,937 tests of which 2.1% were positive. When the country began rolling back virus lockdown measures a few weeks ago, only around 0.5-0.7% of daily tests were returning positive.

Education Minister Yoav Galant, at the Ministry of Education in Jerusalem on May 18 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

The new figures came after a top health official said Israel was already experiencing a second wave of the coronavirus. Israel last week saw over 200 cases recorded in a single day, prompting worries of a renewed outbreak.

Much of the resurgence of COVID-19 has been blamed on the education system, which has seen hundreds of cases in schools and kindergartens since they were reopened. The entire education system was shuttered for two months during a lockdown that began in mid-March. Nearly 200 schools and kindergartens have been closed down again as staff or pupils were diagnosed, forcing all others who frequented the facilities into quarantine.

In the worst incident, over 130 staff and pupils at the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem were diagnosed with the COVID-19.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant announced Sunday the dates for the end of the school year, amid a dispute with one of the country’s main teachers unions over the extending studies into the summer break to make up for days lost when the education system was closed under lockdown. Distance learning was applied instead for much of the two months that schools remained closed.

Gallant told a press briefing that kindergartens and elementary schools (grades 1-6) will remain open until July 13. After that, kindergartens and grades 1-4 will continue a summer break school program until August 6.

Middle schools and some high schoolers (grades 7-10) will continue studies until July 1. Eleventh and twelfth-graders are set to finish formal studies at the end of this week, after which studies will enter their matriculation exam periods from June 22 until July 27.

Gallant said the dates were set in coordination with the Finance Ministry and local authorities.

However, whereas the Israel Teachers Union, which represents elementary school staff, has agreed to the plan, the Secondary School Teachers’ Association of middle and high school teachers has not. Further complicating the issue, the Teachers Union conditioned its agreement to the dates on the Teachers’ Association also signing the deal.

Ultra-Orthodox jewish students wearing face masks at their school in the city of Rehovot, on May 24, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The Teachers’ Association said in a statement after Gallant’s announcement that it will not agree to extend the school year and will end studies on June 19 as originally planned.

“The students have completed the full pedagogical material,” the association said and claimed that the final days of each year are usually spent on preparing for graduation ceremonies, which have anyway been canceled due to the virus.

In a criticism, the statement said that the Teachers Union’s conditioning of its agreement with the Education Ministry on the SSTA also coming on board is “delusional.”

“What is the connection between tenth grade and first grade?” the statement asked.

The Teachers Union, for its part, also issued a statement reiterating that it will only agree to extend the school year if the association does as well, saying its stance is based on the principle of equality among those employed in education.

At the press briefing, Gallant said the middle school teachers association did not participate in negotiations on the matter and maintained the ministry will take the organizations to court if they do not comply.

“If anyone acts against the decisions — we have means to force them and we will use them if the time comes,” he said.

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