At least 44 kids at a middle school in northern Israel have tested positive for coronavirus, local authorities announced Saturday, in the second such outbreak at an Israeli school this week.
The town of Binyamina-Giv’at Ada’s said the vast majority of those infected were in seventh and eighth grade.
According to Kan news, initial tests indicate the outbreaks there and in Modiin earlier in the week were all of the Delta variant first identified in India, which is more contagious than other variants and may be better able to bypass vaccines. The report said several adults who were infected in the school outbreaks were vaccinated.
“The data indicates contagion from returnees from abroad in recent days and not because of a local outbreak,” the town’s local council wrote on its Facebook page, without elaborating further.
It said that after an “emergency consultation” with the Education Ministry, the school would not open Sunday, the last day of classes before summer vacation. The local council stressed “the incident was fully under control” and said there would be a mobile COVID-19 testing station at the school on Sunday, with tests available to all.
An unnamed Health Ministry official quoted by the Walla news site said the cause of the outbreak was still a matter of speculation, adding it was possible it began with a student who came into contact with an infected person who recently arrived from abroad.
The official also said, however, that the source of the outbreak could be events marking the end of the school year.
Israeli television on Tuesday reported that police were probing whether a man who allegedly violated quarantine rules after returning to Israel was the source of an outbreak at a school in Modiin, where 11 students were infected. Channel 12 news said the Health Ministry filed a police complaint against the suspect despite it not being fully clear his actions were the cause of outbreak, to show “zero tolerance” for those who violate quarantine after arriving from abroad.
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 news.
Those arriving from countries deemed high-risk — Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico and Russia — were not allowed to skip the requirement even if vaccinated, according to Hebrew media reports.
In a statement carried by Channel 12 news, the Health Ministry said the looming start of Shabbat, which begins Friday at sundown and when many observant Jews refrain from using motorized transport, had factored into the decision. According to the report, officials feared the lines would be more dangerous than allowing people to skip testing.
A national inoculation drive has already seen over half the Israeli population vaccinated against COVID-19 and brought down daily caseloads from the thousands seen at the beginning of the year to just 25 people diagnosed on Thursday.
Health Ministry data published Friday showed there are just 238 active virus patients in the country. Since the start of the outbreak early last year 839,769 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 in Israel and 6,427 are known to have died of the disease.