Despite Rise in Infections, Israel Decides Against Shutting Schools

Tel Aviv levies fines on 20 businesses, including restaurants and cafes, for violations of Health Ministry rules

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A staff member greets a student at the entrance to the Beit Hakerem school in Jerusalem, May 17, 2020.
A staff member greets a student at the entrance to the Beit Hakerem school in Jerusalem, May 17, 2020. Credit: Emil Salman

The Israeli cabinet on Saturday decided to keep most of the country’s schools open despite a rise in coronavirus infection rates at several of them.

However, a few schools where a rise in COVID-19 infections has occurred, such as the Gymnasia in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood, and a nearby elementary school where siblings of the Gymnasia’s student body are enrolled, were being shut for now.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu oversaw Saturday’s meeting with the health, education, finance, defense and public security ministers as well as the ministries’ directors general and the attorney general, in which a decision was made against shutting all the schools, which had just reopened two weeks ago after a long lockdown against the spread of the coronavirus.

Health Ministry officials had said Friday they were reviewing a possible resumption of online schooling for middle and high schools after a relatively large number of students had been diagnosed with the virus in the previous two days.

The outgoing director general of the Health Ministry, Moshe Bar Siman Tov, said before Saturday’s meeting that “if we reach the conclusion that we must shut some of the classes, we won’t hesitate to do so.”

Prof. Siegal Sadetzki, the head of public health, said “the behavior of middle school students does not allow for observing the rules for preventing exposure” to the virus.

The parents’ organization and the Paula Ben-Gurion School in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood said classes would not be held there for two days after the coronavirus outbreak at the nearby Rehavia Gymnasia late last week. The Jerusalem Municipality said the number of students and staff who tested positive for the virus stood at 78. Magen David Adom said it was relaunching drive-through testing at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, Ganei Yehoshua in Tel Aviv and in Haifa and Be’er Sheva.

The Jerusalem Municipality said some of the students whose siblings had tested positive at the Rehavia school had not yet been tested, and classes were being suspended pending testing and results, and that the city’s education department would be asked to test all students and staff at that school.

“If others test positive for infections, then plans must be remade accordingly, including an increase in quarantines or isolation which would likely be ordered by the Health Ministry,” the statement said.

The ministry said 115 new cases of coronavirus had been detected in Israel in the course of a day, raising the number of infections nationwide to 16,987 since the start of the outbreak. Of those who have tested positive, 14,727 have recovered, the ministry said, adding that the number of active cases stands at 1,909. The rise in the number of people actually ill with the virus marked the highest increase since April 17. Of those who are ill, 39 were listed in serious condition, 37 were on ventilators, while 284 have died of the illness.

Against the backdrop of the rise in coronavirus infection in the school system, the ministry headed by Yoav Galant has been holding a series of consultations on the issue to study the data and piece together a picture of the situation.

According to the Education Ministry, 17 schools and preschools have been shut due to infections, while there have been instances of infections at some 34 schools and kindergartens have shown incidences of infection. There are some 485 students and teaching staff are in isolation or quarantine, and 66 students and teaching staff members are sick.

A waitress serves food at a restaurant in Tel Aviv, May 27, 2020.Credit: Sebastian Scheiner,AP

Meanwhile, Tel Aviv has levied fines of 5,000 shekels apiece on 20 businesses in the past day, including restaurants and cafes, for violations of Health Ministry rules. Seven of those penalized were bars and clubs, including Haoman 17, whose owners were also summoned to a hearing.

A party at the Frishman beach where there celebrants were not abiding by regulations was broken up.

Some clubs that had prepared to reopen were not permitted to do so at the last minute, including some that had already sold tickets to events. Following legal advice, some club owners with pertinent licenses decided to operate as pubs or bars, sticking to purple-label rules.

The Tel Aviv Municipality sent a statement by Whatsapp warning business owners who were fined. “It’s important to clarify to all business owners after the city pushed for their reopening, that they must follow and abide by the regulations. We have enforced and shall continue to do so, and we will not agree for any restaurants, cafes or bars to become infection spreaders.”

Mayor Ron Huldai said: “I’ve instructed city law enforcement to act without compromise to implement health instructions. The same as we are determined that businesses must be reopened, we are also determined to preserve public health. I reiterate to owners of food-related businesses: The responsibility for your customers’ health lies with you and we shall not permit any violations of the sort we have observed in some businesses in the city to continue.”