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    Israeli schools to stay open, despite spike in coronavirus cases

    As of Tuesday evening, some 146 students and 30 teachers in the holy city were diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.

    Israeli students at the Orot Etzion school in Efrat wear protective face masks as they return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus, May 3, 2020 (photo credit: GERSHON ELINSON/FLASH90)

    Israeli students at the Orot Etzion school in Efrat wear protective face masks as they return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus, May 3, 2020

    (photo credit: GERSHON ELINSON/FLASH90)

    Middle and high schools will not be shuttered, even in Jerusalem, at least for another day, according to the Prime Minister’s Office, despite a recommendation by newly appointed Health Minister Yuli Edelstein to close these schools in Jerusalem.

    As of Tuesday evening, some 146 students and 30 teachers in the holy city were diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.

    “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chaired a discussion regarding the education system, at which the data and the steps that have been were reviewed,” a statement by the PMO read, noting that the prime minister requested additional information and that discussions would resume on Wednesday. “According to the data that will be presented, Prime Minister Netanyahu will make a decision regarding the education system.”

    In total, some 225 students and faculty members are sick and 4,925 are in home-quarantine, the Education Ministry said. Another 5,010 are at home because 36 schools were forced to close.

    On Tuesday, new infections were found in schools in Beersheba, Rahat, Ashdod, Ma’aleh Adumim and Holon. However, the majority of cases remain from one school: Gymnasia Rehavia in Jerusalem.

    Professionals in the Health Ministry on Tuesday recommended that all middle and high schools across the country close, but Education Minister Yoav Gallant refused, accusing the Health Ministry of “sowing unnecessary panic.”

    He said that Health Ministry data has not changed dramatically and there is no justification for closing schools, a move that he said would be “reckless toward students, teachers and parents. The fact that there is one sick person and because of him we enter isolation is not dramatic, it is a preventative effort.”

    As of Tuesday night, some 72 new patients have been diagnosed with the novel virus – down from 98 new patients on Monday. There are currently 2,055 active cases of the virus, an increase of 29 people. Of the sick, 29 are ventilated. In total, 290 people have died.

    However, Israelis are still faced with the possibility of returning to restrictions or even lockdown.

    If there are more than 100 patients who are diagnosed with coronavirus per day who are unrelated, then Israel will again be faced with coronavirus restrictions, Health Ministry deputy director-general Itamar Grotto said Tuesday at the Knesset Coronavirus Committee meeting.

    “If there are 100 patients per day unrelated to the same outbreak, then we will have to step back in terms of the restrictions,” he said. “At the moment, the majority of cases are focused on one outbreak.”

    He also said the number of people screened for the virus is on the rise, after Edelstein earlier this week unveiled a new testing policy that allows all Israelis – with or without symptoms – to get tested.

    “Only yesterday, 8,383 coronavirus tests were performed,” he said. “We are in a position to have 15,000 tests a day. And now there are two more laboratories that we have reached an agreement with, and we can reach up to 40,000 tests a day.”

    At press time, the Health Ministry reported that 6,664 tests had been taken on Tuesday.

    Additionally, Keren Shechter Azulay, vice president and general-director of the southern district at Maccabi Healthcare Services, said that the health fund is preparing for a second wave.

    “We already launched a rapid test yesterday at dedicated laboratories we set up in Beersheba, where we examined the students and teachers who went into isolation to verify which of the isolates did carry the virus to prevent further infection,” she said.

    But Yamina head Naftali Bennett, who has long advocated for increased testing, expressed dissatisfaction with the Health Ministry’s efforts, saying that within days or weeks the prime minister would get up at prime time and announce to the public, “We were wrong, the epidemic broke out again, and we have no choice but to re-close.” He said that if that happens, small businesses and self-employed workers will be demolished.

    “It will be a death blow for them,” he said.

    Finance Minister Israel Katz and Culture Minister Chili Tropper announced on Tuesday evening that they had reached an agreement to assist the struggling culture sector with an assistance package valued at NIS 200 million.

    The package includes access to government-secured loans, increased budgets for professional cultural institutions and assistance to complete cinematic productions impacted by Health Ministry restrictions.

    Eytan Halon contributed to this report.

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