Israeli Cabinet Votes to Reopen More Schools, Cafes on Sunday

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Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and PM Netanyahu (left) in December.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and PM Netanyahu (left) in December.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Israel's cabinet on Monday voted to move ahead with the third stage of reopening the economy slated for this Sunday, overriding the Health Ministry, which wanted to wait another week. This next stage includes a resumption of classroom learning for most pupils in grades seven to 10, and the reopening of cafés.

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Education Minister Yoav Gallant said he had wanted to bring these pupils back to class this week, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein had agreed to stick to the March 7 date. In-person learning will resume in towns ranked green and yellow (with relatively low rates of coronavirus infections), as well as in borderline orange communities if at least 70 percent of residents age 50 and over have been vaccinated.

In addition, cafés and small restaurants will open without requiring a green pass for entry, while hotels, event halls and tourist attractions will reopen only to those with the green pass, which shows they’ve been either vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19. Gatherings from Sunday on can include 20 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.

The Health Ministry’s demand to put off the third stage stems from the rise in the infection coefficient (the R number) to 1, and the fear of a rapid increase in the number of infections as a result of Purim parties held over the weekend. “The drop [in infections] that we’d seen, stopped,” said a Health Ministry source. “We were seeing the change in the trend even before Purim. This means the morbidity is rising.”

Jerusalem, during the coronavirus pandemic.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The conditions for moving forward with the third stage had been at least 4 million residents having gotten both doses of the vaccine; reaching a 95 percent vaccination rate among those 50 and above; an infection coefficient of less than 1 and getting the number of the seriously ill to stabilize. But the infection coefficient reached 1 on Monday, the ratio of those over 50 who’ve been vaccinated is only 83 percent, and the number of people who’ve been double-vaccinated is only 3.3 million.

The number of seriously ill, at least, has been dropping; as of Monday, there were 742 people hospitalized in serious condition with COVID-19.

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