Half of Israeli Pupils With Coronavirus Are ultra-Orthodox, Data Shows

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Ultra-Orthodox children going to school at the "red" city of Bnei Brak, September 9, 2020.
File photo: Ultra-Orthodox children going to school in the "red" city of Bnei Brak, September 9, 2020.

Half of the new coronavirus infections among preschool through 12th-grade students since Israel entered its second nationwide lockdown three weeks ago are in ultra-Orthodox schools, according to Education Ministry data published on Thursday.  

The data is not completely conclusive, as most of the new cases have emerged since the schools have been shut; there is no indication whether it would be safe for schools to reopen after the fall holidays.

The data shows 15,285 preschool through high school students and 1,348 staff among the country’s cases of COVID-19. The numbers do not include teaching assistants working in the system since the start of the school year.

An empty classroom in a closed primary school in Ramat Gan, Israel, March 15, 2020. Credit: Oded Balilty / AP

Half of these new cases are from the independent, ultra-Orthodox school system who account for just 19 percent of the entire school population. The ministry does not say how many new cases have been diagnosed among students in special education or in special classes for at-risk teens, which have remained open during the lockdown.

The last time the ministry published statistics about coronavirus infection was a week after the school year opened on September 1. That data was incomplete and was not broken down by region nor did it include the numbers of teaching staff who caught the illness. The ministry has refused to publish data on how many students have the virus or the numbers of schools or classes that have been shut due to local outbreaks.

Education Minister Yoav Galant’s office said in response that since September the publication of the data has been delayed “in order to obtain greater accuracy” and differentiate between those who caught the illness over the summer and the new cases from the current school year. In effect, the data published on Thursday does not reflect any of the new cases that have emerged since the start of the school year, but rather only during the lockdown.

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