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With 200,000 students and educators quarantined, ministers push to shorten isolation

Education Ministry says 40% of classes have at least one confirmed COVID-19 case; Health Ministry chief says exploring possibility of shortening isolation for medical staff

Illustrative: A schoolgirl quarantines at home, in Moshav Haniel, on December 23, 2021. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)
Illustrative: A schoolgirl quarantines at home, in Moshav Haniel, on December 23, 2021. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

Some 200,000 Israeli schoolkids and teachers were self-isolating on Sunday after testing positive for the coronavirus or being exposed to a known carrier.

According to Education Ministry data, 75,993 students and 13,364 school staff members were quarantined after testing positive; and another 103,153 students and 4,354 staff after coming in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case.

In total, 7.2 percent of students and staff in the education system were absent on Sunday as the Omicron variant raced across Israel.

According to the ministry, 40% of classes have at least one confirmed virus case.

Amid the rampage, several government officials, including Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, pushed for the Health Ministry to change quarantine rules and shorten the isolation period to just five days.

“Children face eating disorders, a tsunami of mental health issues, abnormal sexual behaviors, and more, all because of unnecessary isolation,” Shasha-Biton said during a Sunday cabinet meeting, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton speaks during a press conference at the Knesset on January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Thursday, new rules for quarantine began, shortening isolation for asymptomatic COVID patients from 10 days to seven. But those still displaying symptoms throughout the full week are required to keep isolating for a total of 10 days.

“We are exploring the possibility of shortening the isolation for staff at medical institutions and other essential positions, and we will do so responsibly,” Health Ministry Director General Nachman Ash said Sunday during a visit at a coronavirus ward in Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva.

Ash did not say if such a move would extend to the education system.

Health Ministry Director General Nachman Ash attends a press conference on COVID-19 near Tel Aviv, on December 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

On Saturday, 27,167 people tested positive for COVID-19, Health Ministry data showed on Sunday.

The number of serious cases rose by some 82 people to 436, including 96 on ventilators, according to ministry data.

The virus’s R-value — measuring how many people each COVID carrier infects — continued a downward trend of recent days, dipping to 1.59, having steadily declined from a high of 2.12 on Thursday. The figure is based on data from 10 days earlier, with any value above 1 showing the infection is spreading.

The positive test rate dropped as well, to 9.5%, after rising to nearly 15% on Friday. Nearly 300,000 tests were conducted on Saturday.

Medical staff conduct COVID-19 rapid antigen tests, at a Magen David Adom testing center in Jerusalem, on January 12, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

More than a dozen lawmakers and ministers have been infected with COVID-19 during the fifth virus wave, the latest of whom were Culture Minister Chili Tropper and Labor MK Naama Lazimi, who tested positive on Sunday. Both Tropper and Lazimi said they were feeling well and experiencing no symptoms.

Knesset sessions continued despite the missing lawmakers.

The death toll stood at 8,319 after eight new fatalities were recorded on Saturday.

In August-September 2021, when the country was in the grip of a wave of Delta variant infectious, daily deaths averaged over 20 for a period of a few weeks, whereas throughout the current wave the toll has remained in single digits, and usually below five.

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