The Health Ministry announced Friday it would hold a special media briefing at 6 p.m., in response to a worrying uptick in infections in the country, and amid concerns social distancing discipline has dipped as the nation reopens from coronavirus lockdown.
Top officials in the Health Ministry, the National Security Council and the education and finance ministries were holding discussions Friday on the latest developments and reviewing possible courses of action to confront the rise in patients and prevent further regression.
Ahead of the meetings, a health official told the Ynet news site anonymously: “It’s clear to us that the regulations are not being adhered to at all, particularly not in schools.”
According to several reports in Hebrew media, officials were weighing recommending that the government once again halt school studies of grades 7-12, and were also looking at additional measures.
Ynet also cited an unnamed health official who warned that if numbers continued to rise, further steps could be taken, including a renewed closure of synagogues, though he indicated such a step was not yet on the table.
The fresh warnings came as Friday saw tens of thousands of people flock to nature and beaches amid pleasant weather, and as Israelis increasingly emerge from months of lockdown due to the virus. Parks officials at the Sea of Galilee said beaches were full to the brim with visitors.
Health officials expressed serious concerns Thursday evening as latest figures showed 79 new cases over the previous 24 hours, after weeks in which new diagnoses had hovered at around 20 or less a day.
According to Channel 12 news, government data shows cities that have seen an uptick in cases include Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Bnei Brak, Beit Shemesh, Hura, Kuseife and Pardes Hanna
Friday morning saw 15 more cases diagnosed. Still the number of active cases continued to drop, going down by several dozen overnight to stand at 1,876 of a total of 16,887 patients. The number of people in serious condition remained the same, at 37, with 36 of them on ventilators. Meanwhile, 35 were in moderate condition with the rest seeing only mild symptoms.
Also Friday it was reported that some 30 children in a migrant preschool in south Tel Aviv as well as three staff members were ordered into quarantine Thursday after a child was diagnosed with the virus. Recent days have seen children in several schools and preschools in central Israel sent to quarantine after infections were diagnosed among pupils.
And at Hadera’s Hille Yaffe Medical Center, 41 health workers entered quarantine after two nurses caught the virus.
Hebrew media outlets said that health officials were reviewing reports that a significant number of infections in recent days had been found among migrant workers and refugees.
One unnamed official told Channel 12 news that there was concern that migrants could see higher infection rates as they often live in more crowded conditions than the general population.
Sharon Tel, CEO of the Elifelet NGO for refugee children, was doubtful, telling Kan news that migrants were generally very adherent to Health Ministry guidelines, social distancing and wearing masks.
The downward trend in cases diagnosed over the past few weeks appeared to be threatened in recent days by renewed outbreaks in schools.
Eighteen students and staff members at a Jerusalem high school tested positive for the coronavirus when intensive testing was carried out Thursday after three students were initially found to be infected. Students and staff have been quarantined and mass testing is taking place to find any other potential cases.
Cases in educational institutions in Bat Yam, Or Yehuda, Rehovot and elsewhere have sent many more into quarantine.
Despite the uptick in cases, the government said Thursday that higher education institutions and youth groups would be allowed to operate from Sunday, under Health Ministry restrictions.
The newly instituted coronavirus cabinet tasked with facilitating the government’s response to the virus is also concerned that fewer people are getting tested. Though at the height of the pandemic around 13,000-14,000 people were being tested every day, numbers have dropped considerably in recent weeks to stand at around 5,000-6,000 a day as less people experience symptoms.
With recent weeks seeing a sharp drop-off in the number of new virus cases, the country has lifted restrictions on movement, businesses and educational institutions.
Restaurants, pubs, hotels, pools and other establishments began opening up and hosting patrons Wednesday, after authorities gave the go-ahead to ease pandemic restrictions and allow some of the last businesses remaining shut to reopen.