Israel's Coronavirus Czar Warns Against Reopening Schools in 'Red' Cities

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Israel's coronavirus czar Prof. Roni Gamzu at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, August 2020.
Israel's coronavirus czar Prof. Roni Gamzu at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, August 2020. Credit: Tal Shahar

Israel’s coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu said Tuesday that his pandemic advisory panel will recommend not opening schools in communities with high infection rates when the new school year starts September 1. He added that he will ask the government to pass a cabinet resolution on the matter.

Gamzu reiterated his recommendation to not allow direct flights to Uman, Ukraine, to prevent Israelis from doing the pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman in nearby Bratslav during Rosh Hashanah in September over the risk of increased infection. “It’s impossible to stop a person from flying there on a connecting flight, but it’s possible to stop 80 flights” from Israel, he said. “There’s a legal opinion, the cabinet can stop it. We won’t be able to quarantine 15,000 to 20,000 people afterward. I’ll do everything possible to prevent it.”

Gamzu said he was aware that around 2,000 Israelis planned to make the trip to Uman in September, “and if another 2,000 or 3,000 go, we’ll have to arrange for quarantine in hotels for everyone after their return.”

Gamzu said he wrote to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, asking him to stop the flights to his country and citing the potential health consequences of large gatherings in Uman for both Israel and Ukraine. Former Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said Tuesday that Gamzu had exceeded his authorities and must resign.

Regarding the new school year, scheduled to begin September 1, Gamzu said the plan at the moment was to open on time, with the exception of cities with high infection rates. He said the matter would be revisited if infection rates rise before the end of the month.

Gamzu noted that infection rates continue to climb in the Arab community across the board: “Rahat, Tira, Umm al-Fahm, Kafr Qasem, Sakhnin and Nazareth... Weddings and parties are still being held, the mayors see it and are uncomfortable with it,” he said. Gamzu called on Arab community leaders to step up to curb the pandemic.

Gamzu had been scheduled to present the “traffic light program” – imposing restrictions on cities according to risk levels of green, red and amber – to the coronavirus cabinet for the fourth time, but the debate was postponed and has not yet been rescheduled. Sources said Sunday that the likelihood that the plan will be approved has increased. The purpose of the program is to reduce infection rates where they are spiking without imposing a nationwide lockdown.

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