Israel makes high-spec masks after closing over 150 schools against coronavirus resurgence

A cleaning workers disinfects a classroom at the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem on June 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel said Sunday it had opened a factory to make millions of high-spec masks as it prepares for a possible “second wave” of coronavirus cases.

After imposing tough measures to tackle the COVID-19 illness, Israel has fared relatively well in the initial months of the pandemic.

The AFP reported that more than 17,700 infections have been registered among a population of nine million, with nearly 300 deaths.

But as the country has gradually opened up in recent weeks, new outbreaks have occurred and the government has warned Israelis not to become complacent.

“We are preparing for a second wave of the virus,” said Defence Minister Benny Gantz, announcing the country’s first production line of N95 masks.

N95 masks offer a higher level of protection and are more sturdy than the simple medical masks worn by many Israelis.

Gantz said the local production “removes our dependence on foreign factors and contributes to the Israeli economy during a difficult period.”

Israel has registered more than 17,000 novel coronavirus cases among a population of nine million JACK GUEZ AFP/File

The new masks are being made in Sderot, a southern town near the Gaza Strip, using machines imported from China by the defence ministry.

Daniel Lev Israeli, owner of the Sion Medical Company which is making the masks, said his firm will be able to produce around two million a month.

“In the coming weeks the masks that will be used by medical teams will be Israeli N95 masks,” he said.

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Although Israel has experienced a comparatively low number of coronavirus cases, more than 120 schools reopened last month have since been closed again.

Hundreds of pupils have tested positive for coronavirus and nearly 17,500 pupils and staff are being quarantined after contact with those infected, according to the education ministry.

The pandemic is also affecting politics, with parliamentary employees told to stay home Thursday after a lawmaker contracted the virus.

Four fellow members of the parliament are in quarantine after Sami Abu Shahadeh tested positive, while parliamentary activities have been reduced to a minimum.

Earlier, over 20 more schools were closed Thursday due to coronavirus infections, as Israel recorded the largest single day rise in coronavirus infections in over a month.

According to the Education Ministry, 87 schools and daycares have now been closed to stem the spread of the virus, up from 65 earlier in the day.

The ministry said 301 students and teachers have tested positive for COVID-19 during the fresh outbreak, with another 13,696 people in quarantine because of potential exposure to the virus.

The latest school closures included at least two in Tel Aviv where a teacher and several students tested positive for COVID-19.

A school in the northern city of Safed was also shuttered after a staff member and van driver were diagnosed with COVID-19.

All 250 students and staff were ordered into home quarantine.

The school was identified by the Ynet news site as the “Bat Ayin” ultra-Orthodox elementary school for boys.

Israeli students wear protective face masks at the Hashalom School in Mevaseret Zion, near Jerusalem, May 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The closures came a day after the government said it would leave schools open but use targeted closures anywhere a coronavirus case is found to help stem the recent spike in infections. Though classes resumed after two months of closures, students and teachers are required to wear face masks and keep to strict hygiene practices.

Israelis schools began reopening in stages last month. On May 3, the first day of classes, just 60 percent of eligible students attended, a number that later increased before dropping in the wake of the current surge in COVID-19 cases.

The Health Ministry, which has reportedly been pushing to reintroduce a nationwide closure of schools, says the rising number of infections among students is the primary factor in Israel’s recent spike in cases.

The ministry on Thursday evening reported 118 new infections over the past 24 hours, the largest daily increase since May 2.

The number of active cases ticked up to 2,191, with 17,495 infections recorded since the start of the pandemic.

Among those who were sick, 30 were in serious condition, 23 of whom were on ventilators. Another 33 were in moderate condition and the rest had mild symptoms.

No additional fatalities were reported, with the death toll remaining at 291.

The Health Ministry also said 12,929 tests were carried out Wednesday, a marked rise from recent days.

A Magen David Adom medical worker takes a sample at drive-through coronavirus testing site in Jerusalem on May 31, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

According to ministry data, Jerusalem, Israel’s largest city, led all municipalities in the country with 53 new cases in recent days.

It was followed by Tel Aviv-Jaffa (25), Beersheba (17), Bnei Brak (15), Ashdod (14) and Rahat (10), with the other infections scattered across the country.