Resumption of train services delayed amid uptick in virus cases

Resumption of train services delayed amid uptick in virus cases

Transportation Ministry says rail travel will resume at a later date, subject to government approval and case data; Education Ministry says 127 schools and daycares now shut

View of the empty Yitzhak Navon train station in Jerusalem, due to the restrictions following the spread of the coronavirus, on May 11, 2020.
(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
View of the empty Yitzhak Navon train station in Jerusalem, due to the restrictions following the spread of the coronavirus, on May 11, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Train services in Israel will not resume as planned on Monday morning, amid a sustained rise in coronavirus cases, officials announced Sunday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that discussions will be held on the matter at a Monday meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet, which will consider the steps needed to overcome the increase in cases, including the issue of public transportation.

The meeting had been expected to be held on Sunday.

The Transportation Ministry confirmed that Israel Railways will not resume passenger services as expected, and instead continue preparations to restart at a later date.

“In light of the rise in coronaviurs cases, Israel Railways will not resume the passenger train system tomorrow,” the ministry said in a statement. “The Transportation Ministry is preparing for its later resumption, subject to the prime minister’s decision and in accordance with the case data.”

Israel’s rail network shut down in March as part of the government’s efforts to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. Last week it was announced that it would resume on June 8, after a number of previous postponements.

Newly appointed Transportation Minister Miri Regev during a ceremony at the ministry in Jerusalem on May 18 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Saturday, Transportation Minister Miri Regev said that she was working with Israel Railways to “find solutions that will prevent overcrowding and allow us to monitor the movement of passengers on the trains.”

Regev said that one possible solution would be to require that tickets be booked in advance with an app, noting that this could lead to a delay in the launch of train services until Wednesday to allow the smooth transition to the new technology.

The Health Ministry on Sunday morning reported two more fatalities from the coronavirus, bringing the national death toll since the start of the pandemic to 297.

According to the ministry’s figures, there have been 17,783 recorded coronavirus infections in Israel overall, up 31 from Saturday evening. Of the active cases, 29 people were in serious condition, including 23 on ventilators.

Another 37 people were in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms. The ministry also said 11,440 tests were conducted the day before.

No details were immediately released on the latest deaths.

After a sustained drop in the daily infection rate, Israel has seen a jump in new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, with health officials attributing much of the rise to schools.

The Education Ministry said Sunday that 127 schools and daycare centers have been shuttered after students and teachers contracted the virus, up from 106 the day before.

It added that 347 teachers have tested positive for the virus. Thousands more were in quarantine.

The government said last week it would leave schools open but use targeted closures anywhere a coronavirus case is found to help stem the recent spike in infections. Though classes resumed last month after a two-month closure, students and teachers are required to wear face masks and are supposed to keep to strict hygiene practices.

Cleaning workers disinfect a classroom at the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem on June 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Saturday, Channel 12 news reported that the outgoing director-general of the Health Ministry urged senior staff to operate under the assumption the country is in the midst of a fresh coronavirus outbreak, while acknowledging the magnitude of this “second wave” is unknown.

Moshe Bar Siman-Tov denied making the comments and told the network a second wave is not inevitable “if we operate properly.”

“But we are in the midst of a rise in cases. It is definitive, real and tangible, and it will take time for us to understand its full extent,” Bar Siman-Tov added.

The jump in new cases came after the daily infection rate steadily dropped through much of May, with Israel easing restrictions on movement, economic activity and gatherings that had been put in place to contain the virus.

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