Amid new virus cases in Israel, synagogue restrictions, nationwide school closures

March 13, 2020 by JNS
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Coronavirus cases in Israel topped 100 on Thursday, with an emergency-room doctor at the top-rated Sheba Medical Center contracting the illness, and the chief rabbinate issuing new directives for conducting prayers.

A board showing a number of cancelled flights at Ben-Gurion International Airport on March 11, 2020. Israeli authorities imposed severe restrictions on all travellers entering Israel, including a two-week home quarantine of arrivals from all countries to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19. Photo by Flash90.

On Wednesday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli health officials rolled out a series of new restrictions, including a prohibition on events with more than 100 people.

On Thursday, Netanyahu announced the nationwide closure of schools and universities.

“We are closing the schools and the universities,” Netanyahu announced in a television address. “We are in the midst of a global event unlike anything else in the history of the state’s existence,” he said.

Earlier, nearly 1,000 schoolchildren and teachers from the Nazareth Baptist School were sent into quarantine after a person infected with the illness was discovered to have visited the facility, and a haredi school for girls sent 60 students to quarantine after they were found to have been in contact with a person later diagnosed with the coronavirus (COVID-19) during a trip to Jerusalem’s Old City.

In addition, a school in Kochav Ya’ir was closed on Sunday after it was determined that an infected person’s wife had spent time there; it will be closed until it can be disinfected. In Modi’in, 94 students and 80 staff members were sent to quarantine after a teacher was diagnosed with the illness on Wednesday. He was listed in good condition.

Israel’s Teacher’s Union has urged authorities to shut down schools and institute distance learning with the use of computers.

“Schools and kindergartens are incubators of infectious diseases,” chairwoman Yaffa Ben-David wrote in a letter to the prime minister, “posing a serious and immediate danger to students, teachers and their family members, especially those with poor immune systems or pre-existing conditions. “We will not be able to stop the spread of the virus across the country once it infects entire schools,” she said.

Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau issued new directives on Thursday requiring synagogues to limit prayer quorums to no more than 100 people. It recommended houses of prayer achieve this by splitting worshippers into smaller groups. He also reiterated that those in quarantine—with or without symptoms of coronavirus—were banned from entering synagogues and should pray at home.

Lau encouraged young couples to move forward with weddings but to cut their guest lists. He urged people not to engage in the mitzvah of visiting the sick and warned not to make unnecessary trips to nursing homes, so as not to put elderly residents at risk.

He said congregations should say Psalms 13 and 20, and the prayer for the sick after every prayer service

Isolating prisoners, reducing service on railways

As of Thursday, two patients were listed in serious condition and three in moderate condition, according to the Health Ministry.

The doctor at Sheba had returned from a trip to France on March 2 and worked a shift at the hospital before going into quarantine.

Additional patients include a pair of women in their 60s from central Israel who returned to Israel from New York via Moscow on March 9, as well as a 10-year-old boy and 11-year-old girl, also from central Israel.

A 60-year-old worker at Ben-Gurion International Airport took a turn for the worse on Wednesday, after health authorities refused to administer him a coronavirus test, despite a trip days before to Ichilov hospital with flu-like symptoms. The man’s family reportedly begged the hospital to test him for the illness, but was refused because he had not been abroad.

He was finally tested when he returned to the hospital with pneumonia.

All Israelis returning from overseas are now required to enter into two-week self-quarantine, while non-Israelis will only be allowed into Israel if they can demonstrate an ability to self-quarantine for two weeks.

On Thursday, Israel Prisons Service announced that it was isolating 119 convicts and 25 staff members at the Russian Compound Detention Center in Jerusalem after an officer reported coming in contact with an infected person.

On Wednesday, Israel Prisons Service said it was preparing Saharonim Prison in the south for any prisoners who contract the coronavirus.

Israel Railways announced that it would run reduced service starting on Thursday, due to staff limitations caused by the high number currently in quarantine.


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