Up to 10,000 students and teachers have been quarantined in Israel this week.
The Health Ministry made the announcement after 50 new coronavirus cases were reported in less than 24 hours on Tuesday. Thirty-one schools have closed.
New infections were discovered in Jerusalem, Hadera, Be’er Sheva, Bnei Brak and Ashdod.
Schools in Israel restarted classes two weeks ago after two months isolation.
Israel has managed the Covid crisis better than most nations in terms of global figures with a swift crisis management response. To date there have been 287 fatalities.
Education Minister Yoav Galant has instructed schools with a staff member or student confirmed with coronavirus to close. Serological testing will take place in places worst hit.
Gymnasia Rehavia High School in Jerusalem falls into this category as 170 students and teachers with a direct link to the school contracted the virus.
A new report calls for mass testing of students, teachers and their families if infections are discovered.
There has though been criticism about military intervention from the Israel Association of Public Health Physicians.
“Unfortunately, the coronavirus crisis continues to be led by bodies that have nothing to do with epidemiology and public health, even in a stage where sickness rates have dropped but not disappeared,” noted a statement.
“An intelligence body, which acts without transparency, marks virus hotspots without consulting doctors in the Health Ministry whose responsibility is protecting public health.
“Lessons learned from the first wave of coronavirus must be based on the expertise of the professionals in the field, with local decision making, based on data and transparency.”
In related news, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might be set to a third quarantine spell after a worker tested positive for coronavirus after working at his office last Saturday evening.
The Health Ministry is investigating whether Netanyahu, Finance Minister Katz or Education Minister Galant were in attendance. It is believed the maintenance worker contracted the virus from a family member connected with Gymnasia Rehavia School.
Meantime, a Health Ministry survey with Tel Aviv University reported that 200,000 Israelis had been exposed to the virus. But it is only 2-3% of the total population.
The survey examined 1,700 blood tests of people across the country looking for IGG antibodies.
“Findings indicate that the lockdown did its job well, only a few percents of the population were exposed to the virus,” said Tel Prof. Danny Cohen. “We are very far from herd immunity.”
The deadly virus has impacted every section of Israeli society. Earlier this week, thousands of protesters attended a domestic violence rally at Tel Aviv’s Charles Clore Park against calling for the government to protect women. There have been eight victims of domestic abuse since the onset of the pandemic, and 11 since January.
Relatives of victims spoke, including Shira Vishniyak, whose sister, Maya, was killed by her boyfriend.
With cases on the rise again, Magen David Adom has reopened drive-through testing including Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, alongside venues in Tel Aviv, Be’er Sheva and Haifa.
Israel’s trains, meanwhile, are due to restart next week but the latest Covid spike could delay it.
The Health Ministry will discuss the issue with the National Security Council this week.
“We want to safeguard the public’s health, should cases continue to rise, we’ll lose more than we have gained,” noted a statement.
The railway network has twice scheduled a return only for a late setback.
Debate has been ongoing over when to lockdown. Prof. Eran Segal from the Weitzman Institute believes Israel is still in the first wave of the pandemic.
“On the national level we see a rise of 30% in reports regarding fever and high temperatures and a 60% rise in reports on shivers and chills,” he explained. “We also see a sharp rise in people who say they don’t don protective face masks when going outside.”
“We’re still not done with the first wave,” added Prof. Segal. “It’s ending means no infections in Israel, which is not the reality.
“The moment we reopened the schools, the number of infections rose, which in my opinion are still part of the first wave. We must continue to be careful and adhere to public health directives so we may be able to go back to full normality.”
Prof. Segal’s view is backed by the National Information and Knowledge Center who estimate hundreds of foreign workers are unknowingly passing the virus on due to a reluctance to get tested and living conditions.
Data shows 25% of virus tests taken by workers returned positive, higher than the general population.
Officials estimate 40,000 foreign workers and asylum seekers are in Tel Aviv. The majority live in south Tel Aviv and avoid testing as they cost lose their job.
Notwithstanding the many issues, Netanyahu warned Israelis the pandemic was not over despite successes on a global scale on Saturday night.
“The pandemic is most definitely not behind us,” he said. “It is running amok in the world and it is still here in Israel, among us and in our midst.”
He added, “We extinguished the greatest flames of the conflagration in the country but have been left with the smouldering embers which a slight breeze can fan ablaze and carry the fire to other places. Nobody is immune.”
Health Minister Yuli told Sunday’s cabinet meeting the ministry could perform 15,000 tests per day. Edelstein called on citizens who think they have symptoms to get “checked out”.
Finance Minister Yisrael Katz, meantime, is preparing an economy plan to include grants for businesses for a return to work of employees.
Ministers have approved a 1.5 per cent across-the-board cut in government ministries as outlined in the unity agreement to establish a Ministry of Settlement, Ministry of Digital and Cyber, Ministry of Minorities, Ministry of Water Resources and Ministry of Community Strengthening and Advancement.
The cabinet also approved creating the Alternate Prime Minister’s Office. Netanyahu confirmed there would be no residence. Gantz intends to live at his home in Rosh Ha’ayin.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid-Telem) slammed the announcement.
“The government transferred half a billion shekels, not to the self-employed, not to the unemployed, not to small businesses, but to itself. To superfluous ministries such as the Water Resources Ministry, the Ministry of Non-Existent Communities, and to superfluous deputy ministers that no one needs. Disconnected people, we’ve had quite enough of you.”
The opposition are also concerned over Netanyahu’s proposal to pass a “coronavirus law” that would allow the government to impose emergency measures on the public for up to 10 months.
But Justice Minister Nissenkorn said the law would provide the government with effective tools to combat the virus, while preserving the rights of individuals.