Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to give a televised address on Saturday evening after meeting with officials and ministers on possible closures within the education system, as the country saw a steep spike in the number of coronavirus cases.
Channel 12 news reported that ministers were expected to vote on closing middle and high schools, with some arguing that schools should only be shut in areas with high rates of infection.
A Jerusalem elementary school said Saturday it would not open until Tuesday at the earliest due to concerns that a large number of students had siblings who attend a high school at the center of an outbreak.
The Kan public broadcaster reported that the staff and parents’ committee at the Paula Ben Gurion elementary school decided not to open on Sunday or Monday, and that a decision on reopening would not be made until testing was completed of all students and staff at the Gymnasia Rehavia high school.
The Ynet news site reported that the parents’ committee at the elementary school has additionally asked that all students and staff also be tested for the virus.
With approximately half the students at the high school tested, Channel 12 news said Friday that 78 of the cases in Israel over the past two days came from Gymnasia Rehavia, including 64 students and 14 staff members.
Israel on Saturday reopened four drive-through testing stations across the country. The first one to reopen was at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium parking lot, which prioritized testing the remainder of the Gymnasia Rehavia school. The testing stations at Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park and in Beersheba and Haifa also later restarted operations.
Health officials are concerned that fewer people are getting tested. Though at the height of the pandemic around 13,000-14,000 people were being tested every day, those numbers have dropped considerably in recent weeks as fewer people experience symptoms.
According to figures put out by the Health Ministry Saturday morning, a further 121 people were diagnosed with the coronavirus overnight, continuing an upward trend since Thursday.
There were 39 people in serious condition, of whom 35 were on ventilators. Meanwhile, 39 were in moderate condition with the rest seeing only mild symptoms.
The announcement came after 115 new cases were discovered on Friday and the ministry reported 79 new infections Thursday, following weeks in which new diagnoses had hovered at around 20 or less a day. Friday’s announcement marked the first time that the 100 mark has been breached since May 2. That lull allowed Israel to relax most lockdown restrictions.
At a Friday press conference in Tel Aviv, health officials said the sharp rise was mainly at schools, most of which were allowed to reopen earlier this month.
Sigal Sadetsky, head of public health services in the Health Ministry, said 31 schools across the country had been identified as “centers” of the new cases.
“It’s clear to us unfortunately that the conditions at schools… don’t allow for non-infection of coronavirus,” she said.
Despite the uptick in cases, the government said Thursday that higher education institutions and youth groups would be allowed to operate from Sunday, under Health Ministry restrictions.
Meanwhile, outgoing Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov attributed the growing number of cases to an “atmosphere of euphoria and complacency” among Israelis who were “not observing the rules,” such as wearing masks, keeping distance from one another and maintaining hygiene.
Bar Siman-Tov warned the path was “short” to having hundreds of new cases a day and from there to thousands of new infections, but said a potential second wave of the virus “depends solely on our behavior.” He called on Israelis to refrain from visiting their grandparents, saying it was better to speak with them by videoconferencing apps such as Zoom.
The fresh warnings came as Friday and Saturday saw tens of thousands of people flock to nature and beaches amid pleasant weather and a long weekend due to the Shavout holiday, as Israelis increasingly emerged from weeks of lockdown. TV reports also showed large crowds of Israelis enjoying the Shavuot festival with parties at nightclubs late Thursday.
With recent weeks seeing a sharp drop-off in the number of new virus cases, the country has lifted restrictions on movement, businesses and educational institutions.
Restaurants, pubs, hotels, pools and other establishments began opening up and hosting patrons Wednesday, after authorities gave the go-ahead to ease pandemic restrictions and allow some of the last businesses remaining shut to reopen.