Israeli schools unlikely to resume after Passover – top Health Ministry official

Moshe Bar Siman-Tov says continuous rise in cases means more lockdown steps are required, predicts Israel will have to deal with thousands of fatalities

Illustrative: A closed school in the northern Israeli town of Safed on March 13, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Illustrative: A closed school in the northern Israeli town of Safed on March 13, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Israeli schools are unlikely to resume after the Passover holiday, which ends April 15, the Health Ministry director-general said Monday, offering a grim forecast that the the country will have to deal with “thousands of dead.”

Speaking with Kan public radio, Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said that “by my assessment, the school year won’t resume after Passover. I don’t know when it will resume.”

He predicted that by week’s end, there would be 150 people in serious condition from the virus.

“I predict that we’ll reach the end of the week with more than 150 serious cases. I don’t see a model in which we come to the end of this with a low number of intubated or dead,” he said.

According to Monday morning’s tally, there were 80 people in serious condition in Israel, of whom 63 were attached to ventilators. The death toll in Israel from the coronavirus is 15, with three new fatalities recorded on Sunday.

The Health Ministry said Monday that the number of Israelis confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus was 4,347, a rise of 100 cases since Sunday night. It said, that in addition to the serious cases, 81 were in moderate condition, 134 had recovered, and the rest had mild symptoms.

The tally soared beyond the 4,000 mark on Sunday, with an increase of 628 cases in 24 hours. The daily increase had been the single largest since the first coronavirus case was recorded in the country, and put it in 17th place in terms of infection numbers worldwide.

Health Ministry director general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov at a press conference at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2020. (Flash90)

Bar Siman-Tov expressed pessimism about the continued spread of the virus despite the lockdown measures currently in place, and said the situation called for additional steps since he was still seeing people venturing outside.

“I wish you will look back on this in a few weeks and make fun of me, but I can’t see us ending this ordeal without many victims,” he said. “Unfortunately I still think the reality we will have to deal with will be thousands of dead.”

Echoing that sentiment, another top Health Ministry official said Monday that authorities were preparing to have to put 5,000 people on ventilators.

According to a report prepared last week for the Knesset’s Special Committee on Dealing With the Coronavirus, there are at most 1,437 ventilators in the country still available to treat patients. The Health Ministry has disputed that figure, saying there were 2,864 available ventilators.

Illustrative: A doctor checks a medical ventilator control panel while wearing protective clothing at the Samson Assuta Ashdod University Hospital, March 16, 2020. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

There have been growing concerns there may not be enough ventilators to treat all of the most seriously ill, leaving doctors with life and death decisions on whom to keep alive.

To fill the gap, Israel has ordered 11,000 ventilators, 7,400 monitors and 21,000 infusion pumps, said Dr. Orly Weinstein, who is in charge of stocking up on ventilators and other equipment within the ministry.

“The big challenge is that these orders will arrive in parallel with the projected number of patients requiring ventilation,” she said, adding that some 4,000-7,000 ventilators will be manufactured in Israel.

Israelis were ordered starting last Wednesday to remain in their homes unless they are taking part in a small number of approved activities, including purchasing food and medicine, going to work, or taking a short walk no more than 100 meters (328 feet) from their home. Those found violating those regulations are subject to fines of upwards of NIS 500 ($140) or imprisonment.

The government was set to weigh imposing further restrictions.

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