Elementary school classes in first through fourth grades will reopen partially on Sunday of next week, the coronavirus cabinet decided Sunday night, in line with the Health Ministry’s recommendation.
First and second graders will attend school for only half a week, as the government says it cannot afford to hire the extra staffers needed to divide them into smaller groups. Third and fourth graders will study in “capsules,” meaning they will attend school five days a week, divided into smaller groups.
The cabinet has yet to decide on a reopening plan for fifth graders and up.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during the meeting that the cabinet members agreed there was insufficient funding for the plan to bring first- and second-graders back to class full-time, which would require them to divide into groups of no more than 18 pupils.
The Health Ministry had requested that these grades resume in-class studies for a few days a week in such groups.
Coronavirus chief Prof. Ronni Gamzu said that in any event, Israel cannot continue lifting additional lockdown restrictions until it reaches 50,000 tests a day, to provide a clearer picture of infection rates. Last week, the number of daily coronavirus tests peaked at just over 43,000; its lowest was about 27,000.
Gamzu recommended in the coronavirus cabinet meeting that the next phase of reopening should be the resumption of first through fourth grades, non-urgent medical (including aesthetic) procedures and complementary medicine, such as acupuncture – but only after daily tests reach the 50,000 mark.
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In talks held at the end of the week among the ministries of health, education and finance, the Health Ministry said it would not retract its demand to split first and second grades into “capsules” of up to 18 children.
The Finance Ministry does not want to fully fund the capsules, which carries a 6-billion shekel ($1.77 billion) price tag. According to the Education Ministry, division into capsules requires not only a huge budget, but also time – about five weeks to hire more teachers from the lower grades.
Local government, backed by the treasury, wants to give communities the autonomy to deal with the division into capsules as they see fit, without additional funding. For example, a community with a small number of children per class could return to full opening, while other communities would find creative solutions, such as studying fewer days per week or inside and outside the classroom intermittently.
Meanwhile, the Tourism Ministry’s initiative to mark Eilat and the Dead Sea area as “green” tourist zones was approved by the coronavirus cabinet. According to the outline, the cabinet will be allowed to declare the city of Eilat and the Dead Sea hotel complex as a “special tourist area.”
Entry into the green tourist areas will be conditional on the presentation of an up-to-date negative COVID test result. The outline will allow the opening of hotels in these areas while adhering to Health Ministry guidelines. At a later stage, the law enacted will allow the opening of more businesses in these areas, which will serve hotel guests.