More schools across Israel, many in Tel Aviv, closed due to COVID-19 infections

At least a dozen schools and preschools from Sderot to Petah Tikva shuttered, bringing national total to about 65, as additional students and teachers diagnosed

A classroom is empty at an elementary school in Tel Aviv, April 30, 2020. (Sebastian Scheiner/AP)
Illustrative: A classroom is empty at an elementary school in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 30, 2020. (Sebastian Scheiner/AP)

Several more schools were closed Thursday due to coronavirus infections, five of them in the Tel Aviv district, the Education Ministry said.

Since Wednesday, 14 schools and kindergartens have been closed, bringing to some 65 the number of educational institutes closed by virus cases, the ministry said. About 8,000 students and school staff are now in quarantine nationwide, Army Radio reported Thursday afternoon.

The closures came a day after the government said 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 after two months of closures, students and teachers are required to wear face masks and keep to strict hygiene practices.

Two students were diagnosed with the coronavirus at the Gvanim elementary school. In Jaffa, a student and teacher at the Tabeetha school were diagnosed, as was a student at the Collège des Frères de Jaffa and another at the Terra Santa High School. All of the schools were ordered closed.

Another student was diagnosed with the virus at the Ben Zvi High School in Givatayim, prompting closure of the school.

School children wearing protective face masks preparing to go back to school, May 16, 2020. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

Aside from the cases in the Tel Aviv area, other schools and kindergartens around the country were also shut down after students or staff were diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The Ahavat Tzion ultra-Orthodox girls school in Petah Tikva was closed following the diagnosis of a teacher. The school said that only two classes had contact with the teacher, who apparently caught the virus at home and not on school premises, the Walla website reported.

Three kindergartens in the southern port city of Ashdod were closed due to the infection of a teacher who worked in all three places, the report said. A student was diagnosed at the Art School in Ashkelon, prompting its closure for a week. All staff and students will go into quarantine and be tested for the virus. And in the southern town of Sderot, two schools were closed for a day after several brothers attending the sites all showed symptoms of COVID-19.

Following consultations with Education Minister Yoav Gallant and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided that “any school where a virus case is diagnosed will close,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement Wednesday.

According to the statement released by his office, Netanyahu “instructed the education minister to work on solutions for protecting and distancing students and teaching staff” and will continue to hold situation assessments in the coming days.

Newly appointed Education Minister Yoav Gallant (left) with his predecessor Rafi Peretz at the Education Ministry in Jerusalem on May 18, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Education Minister Gallant has pushed back against a nationwide closure of schools, saying the current infection rates do not justify doing so and calling such a move “an irresponsible blow to students, parents and teachers.”

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.

There has been a sharp increase in confirmed new virus cases in recent days, centering around schools nationwide.

The Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem has been particularly hard hit, with some 160 students and staff members there found to be infected.

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

Israelis schools began reopening in stages last month. On May 3, the first day of classes, just 60 percent of eligible students attended, a number that later increased before dropping in the wake of the current surge in COVID-19 cases.

Israel had 17,429 cases and 291 deaths as of Thursday morning.

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