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Education minister also isolating, daughter tests positive

PM leaves cabinet meeting, enters quarantine after daughter catches COVID

Bennett’s daughter was vaccinated against COVID in June; Prime Minister’s Office staffer also tests positive, as virus numbers rise to highest levels in six months

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with his family, in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021. (Ariel Zandberg/Yamina)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with his family, in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021. (Ariel Zandberg/Yamina)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s daughter tested positive for the coronavirus, and will enter quarantine, a spokesman for the prime minister said Sunday afternoon.

The prime minister left Sunday’s cabinet meeting on the Golan Heights after receiving news of his daughter’s positive test and was also self-isolating, according to the spokesperson. Bennett took a rapid antigen test before attending the meeting and tested negative.

The daughter, who is 14 years old, was vaccinated against COVID-19 in June.

Bennett’s office said Sunday evening that the prime minister again tested negative, this time in a PCR test. His whole family, except the daughter, also tested negative, except for his youngest son, who will have to take a second test due to a problem with the sample.

Bennett will nevertheless remain in quarantine, “out of an abundance of caution,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Earlier Sunday, the PMO said one of its employees was found to be positive for coronavirus via a rapid test required of all attendees before the meeting.

The employee was immediately put into quarantine, and did not come into contact with the prime minister or any other ministers, the spokesperson said. Other employees who came into contact with the infected person tested negative for the virus, but were excluded from the cabinet meeting, out of an abundance of caution.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton also entered quarantine after her daughter tested positive for COVID-19.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visiting Katzrin, in northern Israel, over the issue of the connecting of the Golan Heights’ capital to the new infrastructure of fiber optics for high-speed connectivity, on December 26, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Government and health officials have warned that the highly infectious Omicron variant is pushing a new, fifth wave of infections, with case numbers expected to rise rapidly in the coming weeks.

As of Saturday, there were 1,118 cases of Omicron confirmed in Israel since the strain was first identified.

Bennett has been urging parents to vaccinate their children in order to preempt the expected surge in morbidity from Omicron.

At least 5,905 Israelis received their first dose of the vaccine on Friday, most of them between the ages of 5 and 11 — a group that recently became eligible for inoculation.

At least 14 percent of the 5-11 age group — 185,000 kids — have been inoculated with at least one dose. Bennett had sought to vaccinate half a million kids by the end of December, but parents have been slow to follow suit.

As authorities attempt to curb the virus spread, new rules for the education system came into effect. Classes for grades 7-12 in communities listed as “red” or “orange” were only being allowed to take place in person if 70% of pupils have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Under Israel’s “traffic light” plan, each municipality is given a score between 0 and 10 based on several factors, including the number of new cases per 10,000 residents, the rate of positive tests in each town, and the rate of increase in the number of new patients in each town. Each locality is awarded a general color, as well as a separate classification for the education system.

The positive test rate confirming infection with COVID-19 rose above 2% on Sunday, according to Health Ministry figures, for the first time since October 7.

Of the 44,538 virus tests carried out Saturday, 2.07% returned positive. The reproductive rate, or “R” number, also continued its gradual rise, hitting 1.41 after having been at 1.02 in early December.

The transmission rate is based on data from 10 days earlier, with any value above 1 showing that the rate of infection is growing. It was last at such a high level when it was given on July 10, as 1.42, in the midst of Israel’s fourth wave of infections from the Delta strain.

The number of seriously ill patients continued to climb steadily, reaching 98 on Sunday, to match the level of two weeks ago. Of those, 45 people were in critical condition, 18 were on ECMO machines and 39 were on ventilators.

Though testing volume tends to drop over weekends, there were 760 new coronavirus cases diagnosed on Saturday, bringing the total number of active cases on Sunday to 11,894.

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