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Top health official: Proposed 48-hour quarantine for schoolkids ‘impossible’

‘It will ramp up morbidity and there will be a lot more infections,’ says Nachman Ash, as health and education ministries differ sharply over plan for new school year

Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash speaks at his office in Jerusalem on July 13, 2021. (Flash90)
Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash speaks at his office in Jerusalem on July 13, 2021. (Flash90)

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash on Monday rejected an Education Ministry proposal to reduce quarantine for students exposed to the coronavirus to just 48 hours if they have a negative virus test, as the two ministries wrangled over plans for the upcoming reopening of schools.

“It’s impossible. It will ramp up morbidity and there will be a lot more infections,” Ash said at a press briefing, adding that his ministry was looking into alternatives to reducing quarantine that would involve more frequent testing.

Ash said the Health Ministry was not on board with the Education Ministry’s plan for the new school year, despite the latter claiming otherwise. He acknowledged that the question of shortening quarantine for students was one of the unresolved differences between the ministries.

According to Hebrew media reports Sunday, the other main point of contention is over limits to be placed on schools in high coronavirus infection zones.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton had released a plan Sunday calling for students in all grades to return to the classroom, with less quarantine for students and less closure of schools in areas with COVID outbreaks

Earlier Monday, Shasha-Biton insisted her plan had been approved by the Health Ministry and said the duration of quarantine was the key remaining point of disagreement.

“Over the past day false stories and disinformation have been spread,” she said.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton arrives at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem for a group photo with members of the new government, on June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shasha-Biton, a leading critic of government pandemic restrictions, also signaled opposition to encouraging vaccination at schools.

“Children are dealing with mental anguish from the past year and we can’t put additional social pressure on them in the context of school,” she said,

In the briefing, Ash said he was troubled by the rise in serious COVID cases, which surpassed 100 on Sunday for the first time in months.

He added that he hoped the reinstatement of the “Green Pass” system, which goes into effect later this week, will help stem the current coronavirus outbreak.

The renewed restrictions will apply to both indoor and outdoor events with over 100 participants, starting on July 29. The requirement to present proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test from the previous 72 hours will only apply to people 12 and up. Under that age, there will be no restrictions.

“We hope the Green Pass will help reduce morbidity, but the number of serious cases is very troubling,” Ash said.

He also urged anyone eligible — ages 12 and up — who has not been vaccinated to do so.

“The vaccine is the most important tool in dealing with this outbreak. The only way to prevent morbidity over time is for everyone to get vaccinated,” he said.

Israelis, some wearing face masks, shop in the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv on July 26, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

His remarks came as the number of COVID patients in serious condition has doubled in just the past 10 days, but remains a fraction of the peak seen during the third wave, in January, when there were more than 1,200 serious cases. During the second wave in the fall, serious cases hit a peak of 850 in October.

Earlier this month, the coronavirus cabinet agreed that “the leading parameter” for instating new COVID restrictions would be the measure of serious cases. At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett vowed to continue “insisting on sustaining livelihoods, the economy, education, and the freedom of Israeli citizens” through the use of masks and vaccines, rather than instituting new lockdowns.

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