Schools may be told to close their doors on Thursday, a day earlier than planned, after the country’s top coronavirus official urged policy-makers to close down classes immediately amid an unprecedented outbreak.
On Sunday, the cabinet voted to allow schools to remain open through Friday, with a nationwide lockdown set to go into effect at 2 p.m. that day.
But on Tuesday, ministers in the so-called coronavirus cabinet voted to recommend shutting them starting Thursday, according to several reports carried in Hebrew media. Schools will remain open Wednesday.
The move came hours after coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu wrote a sharply worded letter to Education Minister Yoav Gallant and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein strongly advising them to shut schools immediately.
“The government made the wrong decision that is contrary to our professional recommendation,” he wrote.
It was not immediately clear when a final decision on schools would be made.
Gallant has vowed to keep schools open and insisted that they not be forced to shutter until the lockdown goes into effect, despite concern from officials that they may serve as a major vector for the virus.
Israel saw a record 4,913 new infections on Monday, and appeared to be close to matching that number Tuesday, according to preliminary Health Ministry figures.
The death toll rose to 1,147, the ministry said, indicating 11 new deaths since 24 hours earlier.
The country has seen cases spike in recent weeks, with thousands of cases traced back to schools since they opened on September 1.
It was the swift reopening of schools after a lockdown in May that was blamed for the swift reversal of Israel’s initial success in fighting off the pandemic during the first wave of the virus.
Officials say while smaller children pose a smaller risk of catching the virus or infecting others, those 10 and above appear to not have those same protections.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Washington, DC, for the signing of diplomatic accords with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, spoke with Edelstein earlier Tuesday about Gamzu’s recommendation to shutter schools immediately.
The cabinet voted Sunday to place Israel under nationwide lockdown for three weeks starting Friday. Much of the period will overlap with the High Holidays and Sukkot, when schools would be shut anyway.
The coronavirus cabinet meeting had been called to hash out final details of the lockdown measures.