A resurgence in Covid-19 cases is jeopardising Israel’s emergence from lockdown. While experts say it is too soon to call this a second wave, the rise in new cases, especially in schools, raises concerns over the country’s exit strategy.
After two months of closure, Israeli schools and kindergartens gradually re-opened last month. But, last week, first in Jerusalem and then in a dozen other cities, the number of reported infections of children and teachers began to climb. By Wednesday this week, the number of current Covid-19 cases had jumped to 2,055, having fallen below 2,000 last week for the first time in two months. Forty three schools had shut down and over seven thousand students and teachers were in self-quarantine at home awaiting test results.
Because of the young age of most of the newly infected, this has yet to result in a rise in seriously ill patients. The coronavirus wards that were all closed down in May have not yet been re-opened.
The number of serious cases is under 30 but the deputy director-general of the health ministry, Professor Sigal Sedetzky, warned in an interview on Wednesday that “the illness is returning. I’m worried because I thought it went dormant in May and that didn’t happen. Viruses are seasonal but this doesn’t seem to be the case here and things could get dangerous going on.”
Despite the mounting concern, the government has yet to make any major changes to the exit strategy beyond holding press conferences over the Shavuot weekend in which the public were warned to take more precautions.
However, mayors and local council heads have on their own initiative decided to close schools where outbreaks have been detected.
Part of the government’s reluctance to change course is the desire to get the economy back on track as soon as possible and the fact that both the health and education ministers have been replaced. The new ministers are loath to begin their terms with a new lockdown and more school closures.
The government, however, is planning even more drastic steps. Under the guise of “special authority for contending with the coronavirus pandemic,” a new emergency order which the government is expected to vote upon next week, the authorities, including the police, are to be given widespread temporary powers to enforce social distancing in case of a second wave.
Police would be able to enter private homes without a warrant if they suspect this is being flouted. Mr Netanyahu was forced to issue a denial, saying on Monday: “I’ve discussed individual rights and privacy protection with the public security minister, and we’ve agreed unequivocally not to allow the police to barge into the homes of citizens without a warrant. This will not happen.”