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Israel shuts down schools with confirmed coronavirus cases as new infections rise

Israel ordered at least five schools to be closed Wednesday morning after students were diagnosed with COVID-19. The news comes as the Ministry of Health is pushing for a national closure of middle schools and high schools following a spike in new cases among students.

In the western city of Tel Aviv, two elementary schools, with around 350 students each, were shuttered after students tested positive for the Wuhan coronavirus. Meanwhile, the Makif Gimmel school in Beersheba, which has over 1,000 students, was also closed after a student was diagnosed with the viral disease. In Bat Yam, a coastal city just south of Tel Aviv, local officials closed at least three high schools with confirmed coronavirus cases among its students.

Parents have also raised their concerns amid the growing number of new cases, with some avoiding sending their children to school as a result. In some schools, officials have implemented a system to keep students in separate, smaller groups that are kept apart to head off potential outbreaks.

According to health authorities, the rising number of infections among students is the main reason for the recent spike in Israel’s national caseload. Currently, the country has over 17,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 290 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he would decide on closing schools in the coming days. According to a statement from his office, Netanyahu “requested [for] more statistics and asked to look into how to bolster protection for students against infection.”

On Tuesday, local media reported that the Ministry of Health was expected to propose a nationwide closure for middle schools and high schools that will last for the rest of the school year. However, Education Minister Yoav Gallant balked at the idea, saying that current infection rates did not justify the closure.

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Social distancing, hygiene guidelines not observed

With the new cases included, this puts the total of schools closed across Israel at 30, with 10,000 students and staff forced into home quarantine. The new cases also come as the country is moving to roll back its coronavirus restrictions. Aside from schools, the government has also allowed synagogues, malls and restaurants to reopen. In particular, many have foregone wearing masks in public, as well as other social distancing and hygiene guidelines, given the recent decrease in new cases.

The past few days, however, have seen a dramatic rise in infections in schools. Health authorities have confirmed that at least 220 students and teachers have tested positive since schools reopened two weeks ago, including over 150 cases from a single school in Jerusalem. (Related: Israel bars entry to 5 European countries amid coronavirus outbreak, cancels joint operations with US military.)

The outbreak has also caused new cases to soar to almost 100 cases a day – Israel’s highest since May. Health authorities have said that these numbers are close to the threshold at which restrictions would be imposed. In response, the government has ordered any school with a single confirmed case to shut down.

Health requirements from schools have also been complicated. While some schools required parents to check temperatures at home, others carried out temperature checks before students were allowed in. Parents and teachers also said that making children wear masks was difficult, especially during the summer. Young children also have problems maintaining social distancing as they cannot be forced apart from each other. has more stories about the Wuhan coronavirus.

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