Health Ministry said mulling leaving quarantine for kids in place over PIMS fears

With children set to be exempted from quarantine starting Thursday, officials are tracking rise in cases abroad of rare condition that follows kids’ recovery from COVID-19

A father with the supervision of a Meuhedet Health care worker takes swab samples from a child at Meuhedet coronavirus testing center in Jerusalem, on January 18, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A father with the supervision of a Meuhedet Health care worker takes swab samples from a child at Meuhedet coronavirus testing center in Jerusalem, on January 18, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Health Ministry officials are discussing reversing a decision to scrap quarantine for children who come in contact with a COVID-19 carrier over a rare pediatric condition, according to a Tuesday report.

New rules set to go into effect Thursday will nix quarantine for children who come in contact with confirmed virus patients, in a bid to keep children in school despite the Omicron variant wave, which has infected record numbers of Israelis.

Health officials may reverse the move due to concerns over pediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome (PIMS) cases in children who recover from the virus, Channel 12 reported.

Other countries have seen a rise in PIMS cases during the Omicron wave, and health officials decided Monday that if Israel sees a similar rise, quarantine may be reinstated for children in Israel, the report said.

While most pediatric cases of coronavirus are mild, PIMS can cause hospitalization and death. The rare condition shows up 30-45 days after recovering from a COVID-19 infection.

At an emergency meeting to discuss PIMS Monday, Health Ministry officials decided to closely track data on the condition before deciding whether to scrap the plan to exempt children from quarantine, Channel 12 said.

Coronavirus czar Salman Zarka and Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash took part in the discussion, along with other top health officials.

Omicron has caused a staggering number of infections in Israel, but fewer per capita deaths and hospitalizations than previous COVID-19 variants, forcing officials to recalibrate their response to the pandemic, including for schools.

High school students take a test at a school in the central city of Yehud, on January 20, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

As of Tuesday afternoon, some 180,000 people were in quarantine, with over 30,000 being added to the tally daily. The huge number of Israelis forced into quarantine has disrupted commerce and education since Omicron emerged.

Last week, Bennett announced that mandatory quarantine for schoolchildren who were exposed to coronavirus carriers would be scrapped entirely.

According to the plan, starting on Thursday, children up to the age of 18 will no longer need to isolate after being exposed to a virus carrier.

Instead, all students — both vaccinated and unvaccinated — will need to conduct two antigen tests each week — on Sundays and Wednesdays — and present negative results when entering educational institutions.

Children who test positive for COVID-19 will still need to isolate until testing negative.

Reports on Saturday said the rule change may lead to a shortage of teachers and kindergarten instructors.

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu blasted Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his coalition partner Foreign Minister Yair Lapid for the government’s policy toward children on Tuesday.

“Bennett and Lapid have abandoned our children,” Netanyahu said.

“Despite reports in the US about severe symptoms and diseases that hurt children who were sick with Omicron, the government decided that in two days, we’re moving to mass infection of every child in Israel,” Netanyahu said in a statement posted to his social media. “Without quarantine, without enforcement, without proper testing — everyone will get infected.”

He said infections among children will spread to medical staff and children’s families.

PIMS is a new disease related to COVID-19. A study last year said the symptoms were “extremely complex,” including inflammation, fever and gastrointestinal and cardiovascular problems. The exact causes are unclear, but it appears to be related to over-activation of the immune system, causing the body to attack itself.

Itai Pessach, director of the Safra Children’s Hospital at the Sheba Medical Center, said last year that the syndrome is rare and only showed up in around one case for every 10,000 children who were infected with COVID-19.

A 16-year-old Israeli boy who died last year from PIMS was believed to be the condition’s first fatality in Israel.

People wearing face masks are seen in central Jerusalem, on January 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Health Ministry statistics released on Tuesday showed 83,645 new infections recorded a day earlier, the second day in a row with over 83,000 fresh cases. With more than 439,000 PCR and antigen tests carried out on Sunday, the positivity rate stood at 21.82%.

As of Tuesday evening, 480,222 Israelis were actively infected, with 2,254 hospitalized, of whom 871 were in serious condition and 181 on ventilators.

In the past week, 128 Israelis with COVID died, bringing the total death toll since the start of the pandemic to 8,497. Over the past two weeks, some 900,000 Israelis have tested positive for COVID, though experts believe that the actual figure could be several times higher.

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