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In U-turn, health officials to recommend delaying plan to scrap quarantine for kids

Health chiefs to meet with PM; head of Pediatricians Association says he’s ‘raising a red flag’ over plan set to begin Thursday; 888 COVID patients in serious condition

Illustrative: Students at the Ramon School in Modi'in, on October 12, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Illustrative: Students at the Ramon School in Modi'in, on October 12, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Health officials are set to meet with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday, reportedly to recommend postponing a planned end to mandatory isolation for children who come into contact with confirmed virus patients — a move that had been expected to go into effect Thursday.

The Health Ministry discussed the matter internally on Wednesday, according to Hebrew-language media reports, although it has not made a formal announcement on its position.

The reports came as the head of the Pediatricians Association said he was raising a “red flag” over the planned scrapping of isolation.

“Within four days, we will see the number of children in serious condition doubling. We are very apprehensive about the [quarantine] plan. It’s not too late to change it,” Dr. Zachi Grossman, who is also a member of the Israel Center for Disease Control, told the Kan public broadcaster Wednesday morning.

“We in the association are raising a red flag now and recommend not to cancel quarantine for children [starting] tomorrow,” he said.

Grossman’s statement marked a sharp reversal in his publicly stated opinion. On Tuesday he told the Haaretz daily that while there was an increase in hospitalizations and initial reports of pediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome (PIMS), it was “not a massive amount that would justify stopping” the plan to cancel cautionary quarantine for children.

Head of the Pediatricians Association, Dr. Zachi Grossman speaks to Channel 12 news, December 30, 2021. (Video screenshot)

Health experts had initially supported the move to end precautionary isolation for children who come into contact with confirmed carriers, announced by Bennett, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, and Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton last week.

But other countries have seen a rise in PIMS cases during the Omicron wave, and health officials decided that if Israel saw a similar rise, quarantine could be reinstated for children even after the planned end on Thursday, Channel 12 news reported on Tuesday.

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.

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 overactivation of the immune system, causing the body to attack itself.

Under the plan currently set to begin on Thursday, all students — both vaccinated and unvaccinated — will need to take two antigen tests a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays, and present negative results when entering educational institutions.

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

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)

The move is aimed at keeping children in school despite the Omicron variant wave, which has infected record numbers of Israelis.

Meanwhile, the number of patients seriously ill with COVID-19 in Israel has risen to 888, among 537,755 total active cases, according to Health Ministry figures published Wednesday.

Ministry data showed more than 76,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday. Just over 21% of the nearly 400,000 tests came back positive — 23.44% of the PCR samples and 19.84% of the rapid antigen samples.

At least 8,072 medical staff were sidelined after contracting COVID themselves, including 1,107 doctors and 2,592 nurses, the ministry said.

The Health Ministry also released 7-day figures that showed 525,649
new cases during that time period, a 31.9% rise from the week before. Serious cases totaled 1,019, a 61.5% rise from the previous week. COVID-related deaths over the week added up to 130, a 75.7% rise from the previous week. The death toll since the start of the pandemic was 8,502.

Also on Wednesday, Likud MK Nir Barkat became the latest lawmaker to test positive for COVID-19. Barkat said he is feeling well and not experiencing symptoms.

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