At least five schools were shuttered Wednesday morning after students were diagnosed with coronavirus, as the government was considering ordering a nationwide closure of middle and high schools amid rising infection rates.
In south Tel Aviv, the Yarden and Hagalil elementary schools, each with some 350 students, were ordered closed. In the southern city of Beersheba, the 1,010-pupil Makif Gimmel school was closed, the third in the city this week, after a student was diagnosed with the virus.
In the coastal city of Bat Yam, two high schools were closed by the municipality after a student was diagnosed, the third within 24 hours.
In total, over 30 schools have been closed across the country with some 10,000 students and staff forced into home quarantine.
A growing number of parents have also been avoiding sending their kids to school as a result of the wave of infections. Some schools have independently implemented a previously scrapped system of keeping students in separate, smaller groups that stay away from each other to limit any potential wave of infections.
The Health Ministry, which has reportedly been pushing to reintroduce a nationwide closure of schools, says the rising number of infections among students is the primary factor in Israel’s recent spike in cases.
According to the latest numbers released by the Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday morning, a total of 17,343 people have been diagnosed with the virus, up 58 from Tuesday night. The number of active cases continued to grow and stood at over 2,000.
With no new fatalities overnight, Israel’s coronavirus death toll remains at 290.
After holding a situational assessment Tuesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he would make a decision on closing schools in the coming days. “The prime minister requested more statistics and asked to look into how to bolster protection for students against infection,” a statement from his office said.
Also on Tuesday, Channel 12 news reported that the Health Ministry was expected to recommend that all high schools and middle schools be shut for the rest of the school year to stem virus outbreaks. But Education Minister Yoav Gallant had pushed back against a nationwide closure of schools, saying the current infection rates did not justify doing so.
“This will be an irresponsible blow to students, parents and teachers,” Gallant wrote on Twitter, adding: “At the same time, we must be keep our finger on the pulse… wherever a confirmed [COVID-19] patient is identified, the educational institution will be closed.”
Gallant was also quoted by Hebrew media reports lashing out at the Health Ministry, accusing it of “sowing panic,” and saying there was no current need for widespread school closures.
Israel has taken steps in recent weeks to roll back its virus restrictions, reopening schools, synagogues, malls, restaurants and other spaces. While social distancing and hygiene guidelines remain in place, many have taken a more relaxed attitude as the virus appeared to wane, including regarding instructions to wear masks in most settings outside the home.