Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and other relevant officials and experts, including transportation, interior and education ministers met Sunday night to decide on new measures to address the risk of increased morbidity following a number of coronavirus outbreaks at several Israeli schools.
They agreed to task some additional 250 police officers to enforce isolation requirements for those returning from abroad, build a new testing complex at Ben-Gurion Airport and increase the number of testing stations, as well as carry out a communication campaign to foster awareness of the importance of respecting quarantine regulations among the public.
In addition, the authorities will investigate the gap between the number of violations of quarantine and the fines given, and will consider the position of parents whose unvaccinated children do not quarantine after returning from abroad.
The ministers also confirmed that Israelis are not going to be allowed to fly to countries under travel ban – Argentina, Brazil, India, Mexico, Russia and South Africa, unless they obtain a special permission from the dedicated government committee.
A further meeting to discuss the issues related to the coronavirus will be scheduled in the next few days.
Earlier in the day, a spokesperson for the ministry said that Horowitz and coronavirus commissioner Nachman Ash were working to accelerate the implementation of a plan compelling incoming travelers required to isolate to wear an electronic bracelet to monitor their compliance. The program was first approved in March and has stalled since then.
In the past few days, several outbreaks have occurred in schools all over the country, prompting the ministry to order students in three cities to wear masks and to consider issuing a stronger recommendation to get children ages 12-15 to get inoculated.
At least a dozen teachers at a special needs school in the Sharon region tested positive for coronavirus, including 10 who were vaccinated, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
According to a teacher at the school and a series of WhatsApps between the teacher and other educational professionals that the Post reviewed, the outbreak began with one teacher on Wednesday; a handful more were diagnosed on Thursday and several more over the weekend.
“Almost everyone went to get checked, even if they were feeling OK,” the teacher, who asked to be known only as Eran, told the Post.
It is still unclear how many students are infected, though he said that some of the sick are definitely youths.
The school has fewer than 200 students coming from all over Israel, as well as staff from around the country.
Eran said that none of the staff had been abroad, but he did not know if any of their family members, friends or inner circle had traveled.
Eran sent a message to the school in Petah Tikva where his children are enrolled, to inform them of the situation. The principal has decided to require all students to wear masks for the time being, including in open spaces, according to a WhatsApp communication seen by the Post.
The Post asked the Health Ministry for additional details, but did not receive a response.
On Saturday, the ministry announced that several coronavirus cases had been discovered in a school in Binyamina. After some 45 students tested positive, the ministry ordered on Sunday that masks must be worn in schools in Binyamina, Modi’in and Maccabim-Re’ut.
The fresh mandate instructed students to wear masks on all school property, including in open areas.
Only nine of the students who tested positive were reported to have been experiencing any coronavirus symptoms.
According to initial ministry findings, the source of the outbreak is still under investigation, but there is a connection with a family who recently returned to Israel from abroad.
The preliminary results of the genetic sequencing suggest that the children are infected with the Delta variant (commonly known as the Indian variant), which experts believe is significantly more contagious than the British strain that is currently dominant in the country.
Earlier last week, another outbreak was reported in a school in Modi’in, with some 15 students infected.
Another two students tested positive for the virus in Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’acov Ihud in the Jordan Valley, after their father returned from Dubai, according to N12. As a result, classes in the school were canceled.
Several hundred students have been sent to home isolation as a result of the outbreaks.
The Health Ministry is considering changing the recommendation for vaccinating youth aged 12 to 15. A spokeswoman for Ash told the Post that “We may move to a stronger recommendation for children.”
On Sunday, the Clalit health fund reported a nearly 100% increase in requests for coronavirus vaccination by students in this age cohort.
Earlier in the day, the Health Ministry asked vaccinated and recovered people who attended a performance in Beit Shean’s Qimron Hall on Thursday to enter quarantine after it discovered that a girl in the audience tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday morning. However, later on Sunday, the ministry said that only people who are not vaccinated or recovered should isolate, while those who are should get tested and avoid contact with people until they receive the results.
The ministry’s first announcement marked an unprecedented development: The current policy in Israel allows those who are fully inoculated or recovered to skip isolation if they are exposed to a verified patient or they return from abroad – the one exception being people who returned from countries under a travel ban because of their high morbidity.
Some 46 people were identified as coronavirus carriers on Saturday, with 0.3% of the tests performed returning a positive result. Both figures represent the highest in a month – even though the numbers remain extremely small compared to the worst periods of the pandemic when thousands of new patients were identified every day and over 10% of the tests returned positive.