Coronavirus cabinet to meet today against backdrop of spiking infection

Number of patients in serious condition on the rise • Netanyahu: More classes to resume Tuesday, as planned.

Hadassah Ein Kerem coronavirus unit (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Hadassah Ein Kerem coronavirus unit
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
There will be no change to plans to return more pupils to school on Tuesday despite reports by health officials that reducing restrictions could lead to a spike in seriously ill patients that would lead to a third lockdown.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet on Sunday that fifth- and sixth-graders will return to their classrooms on Tuesday and students in grades 11 and 12 will do so next week.
“That is not going to change,” Netanyahu said, the day before the coronavirus cabinet is meant to convene online to discuss a plan to allow malls to reopen, as well as potential new restrictions to help offset climbing infection rates.
The prime minister’s statements came as a spike in the number of serious cases of COVID-19 was recorded for the first time in about a month and a half, according to the daily report published Sunday by the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center.
The number of serious cases rose from 304 on Thursday to 314 on Sunday morning, but it dropped to 299 by Sunday evening. The number of patients on ventilators rose overnight from 121 on Saturday to 131 on Sunday morning, but it too dropped back to 121.
The death toll rose to 2,800 by Sunday. The number of hospitalized patients, in general, also rose over the past week and currently there are 7,786 patients being treated in hospital.
The increase was reported as the number of daily infections remains high, with 416 new cases of novel coronavirus reported on Saturday – 2.8% of the 15,346 people who were screened tested positive.
In Jerusalem, the city with the highest level of infection, there are currently 1,134 sick people, the ministry said, including 54 new cases in the past day. Two-thirds (36) are in east Jerusalem, another 11 are in the general community and five are in the ultra-Orthodox sector. Two were unassigned.
The Arab sector has seen the greatest spike in infection in recent weeks, mainly due to illegal weddings, as well as people returning from trips abroad and failing to quarantine.
In contrast, the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community has seen declining infection. In an interview with N12, Eran Segal, a computational biologist with the Weizmann Institute of Science, said that among children in the community they were seeing a steady rate of infection, and in some cases even a decline. The ultra-Orthodox make up about 8% of total infections in Israel, he said, much less than their share of the population. At the same time, only 4% of new cases are from the haredi sector.
Coronavirus commissioner Nachman Ash visited Jerusalem on Sunday and met with Mayor Moshe Lion. During the visit, he highlighted the rising infection rate.
“We are in a period of increasing morbidity,” Ash said. “The coefficient is around one, which is unstable. On the one hand, we want to expand the opening of the economy, but on the other, we do not want to lose control.”
When Israel entered its second lockdown on Rosh Hashanah, about 800 patients were in critical condition – many more than today. In addition, hospital administrators raised a red flag and were talking about a breakdown of the health system. Today, most coronavirus units are closed.
The R number stood at 1.06 on Sunday morning, according to a Health Ministry report. R is the number of people a person carrying the virus will infect, on average. If R is below one, the person will infect less than one other person, meaning the outbreak is decreasing but if it is above one, then the person will infect more than one person and the outbreak will spread.
The knowledge center warned that continuing to relax restrictions without protective measures will likely accelerate the rate of infection. The center also warned that although progress has been announced concerning vaccines, they probably will not significantly affect the outbreak in Israel over the winter, meaning that Israelis still need to be cautious, and follow guidelines strictly.
This has not stopped Education Minister Yoav Gallant from pushing to reopen schools across the country. On Sunday night, he said he held a meeting with the chairman of the local authorities, Haim Bibas, head of the regional authorities, Shai Hajaj and 150 mayors who “expressed full and sweeping support for my demand to open the entire educational system next week.”
Gallant wrote on Twitter that an analysis of morbidity data in the educational system by a team of experts that advises the coronavirus cabinet showed that there has been a decrease in morbidity among preschoolers and  children in grades one through four, who have returned to school.
“A proper national priority requires the return of students to school,” he wrote. “This is an issue of values and an essential national need.”
The Education Ministry showed Sunday night that 244 preschoolers were infected with coronavirus, out of 512,555 children – 2.87% of total infection in Israel. At the same time, only 694 elementary school students out of more than one million were infected.
In total, 405 teachers have the virus and 21 of 5,000 schools and 202 preschools have been closed.
A report by N12 Saturday night indicated that Health Minister Yuli Edelstein would support a program to allow all students to go back to school in green cities, however, in an interview with KAN News on Sunday morning, the minister said he believed that enough has opened up for now.
He also said that schools would have opened faster had parents pushed harder to return their children to their classrooms.
The minister’s comments were met with angry responses, especially from the National Parent Leadership Association, which said they should not have to shout to get kids back to school. Children’s education should be a national priority, even before the opening of malls, gyms and street shops, they said.