Unvaccinated Israeli teachers will be required to be tested for the coronavirus once or twice a week in order to enter a classroom, Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash said.
Ash added that the Health Ministry will decide on which schools will be fast-tracked for in-school vaccinations against the coronavirus.
“We’ll have to decide where to perform them [the vaccines], in what places it’s right to do it and, in those places, we’ll simply send in a mobile vaccination station as we do with our other campaigns,” Ash told 103fm radio regarding the drive to vaccinate students 12 and up at school.
His remarks came after the coronavirus cabinet voted Sunday to open the school year as scheduled on September 1, despite concern that doing so could cause a surge in coronavirus cases. With regard to the start of the school year in the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, community two weeks ago, Ash admitted that the Health Ministry had not been sufficiently prepared.
“Preparations for the opening of school in the ultra-Orthodox system got underway relatively late,” he acknowledged. “When you look at the numbers [of COVID cases], even in the Haredi school system, I hope that we ultimately manage to control the situation. I am seeing signs of moderation,” he said, adding, “I hope that preparations now ... for the general school system will be better.”
Coronavirus policy czar Salman Zarka told Army Radio that he backed the coronavirus cabinet’s decision to start the school year on time. “Shutting oneself up at home and closing the school system isn’t exactly the solution,” but he cautioned, “We’ve achieved a plan that is not hermetic. Clearly there will be cases of illness at school – in the Arab community, in the general community and in the Haredi community.”
Zarka said he would have preferred even tougher rules than those recommended by the Health Ministry that limit the size of gatherings such as cultural and sports events that are subject to Green Pass restrictions until the incidence of the coronavirus declines.
“We have a very high number of cases. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t lie,” he remarked, noting that the situation is reflected in the country’s hospitals, many of which are full.
According to Health Ministry data released Monday morning, there are 670 seriously ill COVID patients around the country, including 162 who are in critical condition. The country's overall infection rate, however, is at the lowest level since early June, and nearly 1.5 million Israelis have received a third shot of the vaccine, a booster dose.
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The coronavirus cabinet decided Sunday to permit vaccinations to be performed at school during school hours, rather than only before and after school, as Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton had proposed. Vaccinations will only be administered with parents’ permission.
Parents of students under age 12, who under current guidelines cannot be vaccinated, will be required to perform a home coronavirus test on their children and to present a negative result on September 1.
In “red” cities with high rates of infection, classes from grades 8 through 12 in which fewer than 70 percent of the students are either vaccinated or recovered from COVID will revert to distance learning by Zoom. Health Ministry data from Sunday show there are about 150 towns and neighborhoods designed as red, including Be’er Sheva, Rishon Lezion, Ashdod, Hadera and Acre.
With the approach of next month’s traditional Rosh Hashana pilgrimage to the Ukrainian city of Uman, the coronavirus cabinet approved a plan requiring travelers to present a negative COVID test performed up to 72 hours prior to their departure and again 72 hours before they return to Israel. Returning passengers will be required to spend 14 days in quarantine, which can be reduced to seven days on presentation of two negative COVID tests.