Coronavirus Israel Live: State Watchdog to Open Probe Into Handling of Coronavirus Crisis

Only schools with outbreaks set to close ■ Dozens of staff in two hospitals quarantined ■ Over 100 test positive for coronavirus Friday

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Haaretz
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Netanyahu putting on a face mask during a government meeting at the Foreign Ministry, Jerusalem, May 31, 2020
Netanyahu putting on a face mask during a government meeting at the Foreign Ministry, Jerusalem, May 31, 2020Credit: Emil Salman
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Haaretz

Israel has seen a spike in coronavirus cases as it begins lifting restrictions on restaurants, bars, tourist attractions and other businesses. Despite the uptick, the country's number of COVID-19 patients remains low. 

■ 17,012 people in Israel have so far tested positive for the coronavirus; 284 people have died. In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, 554 people tested positive; two people have died. In the Gaza Strip, 61 people were diagnosed, 18 of whom recovered, and one person has died. 

■ Coronavirus tracker: Live stats of cases and deaths

LIVE UPDATES

7:23 P.M. Fifty-three new cases registered on Sunday

According to the Health Ministry, 53 people tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday out of 2,874 tests conducted, raising the total number of cases to 17,071. 

Israel currently has 1,994 active cases, with 30 of those being on ventilators. So far, 285 people have died and 14,792 recuperated. (Haaretz)

7:15 P.M. Health Minister says testing will be expanded

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said his office is changing its regulations in order to make coronavirus testing more widely available, including to those who are asymptomatic, in light of the recent spike in new cases. He added that the criteria under which a person must enter quarantine have not changed.

Edelstein added that the recent surge of cases in Jerusalem schools, particularly Gymnasia Rehavia, is a symptom of a wider outbreak that "deeply worries us."

Edelstein presented the new criteria for attaining a test:

1. People who share a home with a confirmed patient, even if they are asymptomatic, will be tested on the day their housemate is diagnosed and again five days later.

2. Asymptomatic people who have been in close contact with a confirmed patient at school – meaning they are in the same class, share transportation or other circumstances where there was close contact – will be tested.

3. Asymptomatic people who were in contact with an infected person in a housing facility, including assisted-living facilities and nursing homes, will be tested.

4. Tests will be administered at the discretion of family physicians.

5. All special populations identified by the Health Ministry will have access to testing.

6. Tests will be administered to any person displaying symptoms who has been in contact with a confirmed coronavirus patient.

7. Any person displaying symptoms of the virus who arrives at a hospital will be tested.

5:40 P.M. Half of new coronavirus cases in Jerusalem education system originated from single school

Half of the 44 coronavirus cases confirmed in Israel's education system since Saturday were from the Gymnasia Rehavia school in Jerusalem.

According to statistics from the Health Ministry, 1,577 students and teachers are currently in quarantine, among them 990 who were quarantined on Saturday. At the Gymnasia Rehavia school, 122 people have been diagnosed with the virus – 104 students, 15 teachers and three parents. In Bnei Brak a pre-school teacher was diagnosed with the virus sending 17 children and nine staff members into isolation. (Nir Hasson and Shira Kadari)

5:00 P.M. State watchdog to open probe into handling of coronavirus crisis

State Comptroller Matan Engelman alerted the prime minister and relevant government ministers that the Comptroller's Office is opening a wide inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Over the last two months, the staff at the state comptroller's office has been gathering information and holding meetings with professional sources in the various government ministries. Meanwhile, the office has been comparing the oversight processes in other countries.

The state watchdog alerted the prime minister in his letter that the inquiry will examine the reciprocal relationship and interfaces between emergency bodies in the handling of the crisis, and will focus on the work of the National Security Council in its coordination with other groups. (Haaretz)

4:40 P.M. Hundreds of foreign workers, asylum seekers get tested 

Hundreds of foreign workers and asylum seekers were tested for coronavirus Sunday at a testing station that was set up by Magen David Adom in the Neve Sha'anan neighborhood of south Tel Aviv. 

A letter was handed out to children and parents at local schools asking that all foreign workers get tested, regardless of whether they are displaying symptoms.

At 3 P.M. the testing station closed and dozens went home without receiving a test. As of 1 P.M. some 200 foreign workers were tested. For comparison, at the peak of the infection rate, 204 foreign workers were tested over an eight day period, and among them, only seven cases were confirmed.

In parallel, the Terem clinic, which provides medical services to asylum seekers, opened a station for swab testing and another for sereological testing in order to gather data on the rate of infection within the community. In recent days, members of the community have stepped up efforts to spread information about the virus and urge people to get tested. (Bar Peleg)

3:30 P.M. Students in Jerusalem refuse to return to class despite government decision to keep schools open

Due to the new outbreak of coronavirus cases in Jerusalem, large numbers of students did not return to school Sunday, despite the government's decision to only close schools where a high number of cases were diagnosed.

After over 100 students tested positive for the virus at the Gymnasia Rehavia high school, a number of schools instructed parents not to send their children. A small number of schools cancelled classes entirely, despite being kept open by the goverment. 

A number of elementary schools whose students continue on to attend high school at Gymnasia Rehavia went on strike, given that many of their students have siblings at Gymnasia Rehavia. (Nir Hasson)

1:44 P.M. "Coronavirus is not behind us," says Netanyahu

In his remarks before today's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Israelis to remain vigilant as cases rise. He once again urged the population to wear masks, exercise social distancing and keep strict hygiene. 

"In recent days, there has been an increase in cases and a general relaxing of discipline," Netanyahu said. "I don't know if I should use the terms 'meanwhile' or 'because,' the data is still unclear," he added. 

He announced a three-pronged approach to deal with the rise: Increased testing; the modifications of 'purple badge' regulations, which businesses must follow to welcome the public or their employees; and stricter enforcement of regulations. (Noa Landau

11:59 A.M. Health minister warns against complacency, asks Israelis to take rising cases seriously

Speaking before the weekly cabinet meeting, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said there had been a five-fold increase in the number of people testing positive for coronavirus in the last day.

Edelstein said Israelis as a whole should be concerned, even if the increase seemed to have mostly taken place in one area of Jerusalem. "The steady rise began even before the Jerusalem school event," he said. "And even if the school data is cleared, the trend is still on the rise."

The minister urged people to get tested if they felt sick, and to respect restrictions, wear masks, keep social distancing, and strict hygiene rules, "or we will be back in lockdown, and much faster than you think." (Noa Landau)

11:06 A.M. Bnei Brak nursery school teacher tests positive

A Bnei Brak woman who works a several nursery schools in the city has tested positive for the coronavirus, sending 17 children and nine staff members into quarantine. 

Bnei Brak was a central hotspot in the first wave of the coronavirus in Israel. (Bar Peleg)

7:30 A.M. Temple Mount complex opens, hundreds gather at Al-Aqsa mosque

Hundreds of worshippers gathered early this morning as gates to Jerusalem's Al Aqsa mosque reopened.

The mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, was shut on March 15 by the Waqf religious authorities, over fears of the spread of the coronavirus. The Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site on which the mosque stands, also reopened to visitors.

Worshippers must wear face masks and bring personal prayer rugs should they wish to pray inside the shrines or on the compound’s outdoor grounds, the Waqf said in a statement. (Jack Khoury, Nir Hasson and Reuters)

SATURDAY

11:30 P.M.  Diagnosis of seventh-grader in Holon puts over 120 in quarantine

A seventh-grader in the central Israeli city of Holon has been diagnosed with coronavirus, prompting authorities to place some 120 students and six teachers in quarantine for two weeks. (Haaretz)

10:00 P.M. Education Ministry to step up efforts in schools

Education Minister Yoav Galant said his office will brief students on abiding by health regulations amid a spike in cases in educational institutions. The ministry will set up task forces in all districts to tackle infections, said Galant. 

9:00 P.M. Netanyahu says coming days will be a test 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a special speech in response to the recent spike in confirmed coronavirus cases. Netanyahu said the coming days will be "a test" to see if there is a change in trend in coronavirus infections in Israel. Netanyahu said the government will take steps to counter the spread of the virus, including increased enforcement of the coronavirus regulations and support for businesses that keep with regulations.

For now, Netanyahu said, the government is not imposing additional restrictions but may have to if citizens don't abide by regulations. Netanyahu beseeched Israelis to keep their distance from one another, wear masks, and wash their hands.

Netanyahu spoke alongside Finance Minister Yisrael Katz, who presented a plan to rehabilitate the economy. Katz spoke giving grants to businesses that bring back their employees, and added that over half a billion shekels had been budgeted for businesses.

Economy Minister Amir Peretz said following the declaration that Katz's plan was lacking and that he would bring up the issue at the next government meeting.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein was not present at the press conference. His office issued a statement explaining that Edelstein took part in consultations by phone earlier Saturday, despite the fact that he observes the Sabbath, because the meeting would help save lives. When asked why he was not present at the press conference, his office said, "the health minister felt it was very important that the Israeli public receive this information immediately after the Sabbath, and therefore preferred not to delay the press conference while they waited for him to arrive." (Haaretz)

7:42 P.M. Number of coronavirus cases in Israel increases by 25

25 people tested positive for coronavirus on Saturday, raising the total tally of infections to 17,012, less than 2,000 of them still active. No patients died on Saturday. 

Over the Shavuot holiday there has also been a marked drop in number of tests being conducted. (Haaretz)

6:37 P.M. Tests conducted in Jerusalem after mass infection in school

Over 1,000 people were tested for coronavirus in Jerusalem on Saturday, the majority of them students, relatives and staff of the Gymnasia Rehavia school, where more than 70 people have been diagnosed with the virus. (Nir Hasson)

5:15 P.M. Schools to remain open, despite rise in infections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the ministers of health, education, finance, defense and economy held a phone discussion on the coronavirus situation. They decided to keep schools open, despite over 30 educational institutions having been detected as infection hotspots. Only schools with detected infections will be closed, the ministers decided. (Ido Efrati, Nir Hasson and Noa Landau)

4:00 P.M. Tel Aviv levies fines on businesses 

The Tel Aviv municipality handed out fines to seven bar owners for failure to comply with coronavirus restrictions. It also fined the Oman 17 club where a large party was held. (Bar Peleg)

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