Knesset Shuts Down After Lawmaker Contracts Coronavirus

Joint List lawmaker Sami Abu Shehadeh and his staff have entered isolation, as dozens of Israeli schools close amid uptick in virus cases

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wears a protective face mask on his way to the swearing-in ceremony of the unity government, Jerusalem, May 17, 2020
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wears a protective face mask on his way to the swearing-in ceremony of the unity government, Jerusalem, May 17, 2020Credit: Alex Kolomoisky/Pool

All Knesset activities planned for Thursday were canceled after Joint List lawmaker Sami Abu Shehadeh announced early on Thursday that he had been diagnosed with the coronavirus. 

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This comes as the country has seen an uptick in cases of the virus have risen in past days, sparking concern over a possible second wave to come.

Abu Shehadeh was tested for the virus after his driver contracted the disease. Following his own diagnosis, Abu Shehadeh and his staff entered isolation. In an interview Thursday morning on the Kan public broadcaster, the MK said that he has met thousands of people in the pasts two weeks.

Four Joint List MKs, Ahmad Tibi, Aida Touma-Sliman, Ofer Cassif and Dr. Yousef Jabarin all tested negative for the virus on Thursday afternoon, but will remain in quarantine. 

Joint List MK Sami Abu Shehadeh speaks in the Knesset, Jerusalem, October 28, 2019
Joint List MK Sami Abu Shehadeh speaks in the Knesset, Jerusalem, October 28, 2019Credit: Yitzhak Harari / Knesset spokesperson's office

The Knesset announced on Thursday morning that all committee meetings scheduled for the day would be postponed and that workers were instructed not to come in unless it was essential to do so.

Knesset Director General Albert Sakharovich and other officials will discuss how to proceed, in consultation with the Health Ministry. 

Multiple schools around the country have been closed after students or teachers were found to have the virus. The government has decided to keep schools open, despite calls to revert to distance learning. 

On Wednesday the number of cases rose by 92, the Health Ministry said, while Tuesday saw the biggest daily rise in cases in a month.

Another 36 schools closed on Thursday because students or staffers were diagnosed with the coronavirus, bringing the total number of schools and preschools closed due to the virus to 87.

According to the Education Ministry, at least 13,696 students and teachers are in quarantine, while 301 students and staffers have been diagnosed with the virus.

Jaffa, the port city out of which Tel Aviv grew, has become an active center of concern, with at least eight schools shutting their doors.

“I asked parents not to send their children to school two days ago, when we learned of the first case,” said Dr. Youssef Masharawi, who heads the parents’ committee at one of the schools, the Ajyal High School.

“There have recently been many incidents in the city and people are walking around with masks,” he continued. “It took time to explain to everyone, and now it’s all blown up in our faces. I fear there’s a process of infection here and nobody’s paying attention. If feels like we haven’t learned anything.”

Jaffa’s fears of infection stem in part from the fact that diagnosed Joint List lawmaker Sami Abu Shehadah and his driver are both Jaffa residents.

On Thursday evening, Israel reported 118 new cases of coronavirus for the preceding 24 hours, putting the total number of cases at 17,495. There are currently 2,191 people sick, including 23 on respirators. Some 291 people have died to date. 

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