The government on Tuesday refrained from ordering a nationwide closure of middle and high schools, a move the Health Ministry was reportedly pushing for amid a rise in new coronavirus infections that has led to the closure of dozens of educational institutions.
After holding a situational assessment, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office indicated a decision would not be made before Wednesday.
“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.
Earlier, 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 Channel 13 reported that the ministry later backed away from the proposal.
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.
He added: “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.
The Education Ministry said earlier Tuesday that 217 people had been confirmed to be infected in schools and kindergartens throughout the country in recent days, that 9,935 students and education staff members were in quarantine and that 31 institutions had temporarily closed down over the past week.
Recent days have seen a rise in fresh infections after weeks of declining new cases, with most of the outbreak focused on schools.
The Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem has been particularly hard hit, with 159 students and staff members there found to be infected.
A growing number of parents have 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.
Also Tuesday evening, the Health Ministry reported 116 new infections over the past 24 hours, the highest single day increase since May 1.
It also announced one more fatality, bringing Israel’s coronavirus death toll to 290.
Of the 2,055 Israelis currently infected with the virus, 29 were in serious condition.
The ministry also said 7,952 tests were performed Monday, a rise from recent days.
Edelstein on Sunday announced plans to expand virus testing to those not showing symptoms and sternly warned Israelis against relaxing social distancing and hygiene habits.
Medical services have thus far largely limited testing to those displaying symptoms of the virus and have resisted calls to conduct mass testing to detect suspected asymptomatic carriers.
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.