A new scheme aimed at keeping Israeli schools open and reducing the number of children in quarantine will be implemented gradually, the Education Ministry said Saturday, as delays in supply of COVID test kits to schools across the country mar its launch, planned for Sunday.
The total number of test kits required to implement the government's plan, which was meant to start on Sunday, is estimated at 920,000. The Health Ministry said it provided about half a million kits, and it has 150,000 more ready to be distributed to schools. More test kits, the Health Ministry said, will be distributed in the coming days.
The Education Ministry said that instead of delaying the scheme for all schools, it will start gradually over the next few days. Schools in areas with relatively higher infection rates than others will be given higher priority.
According to the new scheme, students in "green" cities – those with low infection rates – will no longer be required to go into a full week of quarantine if they have been exposed to a COVID carrier.
Instead, a student who has come into contact with a carrier will have to quarantine until they have received a negative PCR swab test. Once negative, the students will take a rapid antigen swab test at home before returning to school, where they will receive a week’s worth of free antigen test kits to take home.
They will then be asked to conduct a rapid test at home every morning, and will be allowed to come to school if it shows a negative result. On the seventh day they will undergo a second PCR test, after which they will go back to normal and not be asked to show more test results in order to attend school.
If a student tests positive, they will be required to quarantine, while the rest of the class continues as usual.
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Meanwhile, the number of new COVID cases continued to decline, reaching the lowest point since July, with 1,023 new cases identified on Saturday.
Though the number of tests carried out over the weekend tends to be lower than weekdays, the rate of positive tests remained low, at 1.99 percent, also the lowest it has been since late July.
The R number, which represents the average number of people that each infected person will go on to infect, dropped to 0.71. If the figure is below 1, it means the pandemic is shrinking.
The overall number of coronavirus patients in a serious condition stands at 463. Of this figure, 222 are in critical condition and 186 on ventilators.
About 78 percent of serious cases are unvaccinated, according to the Health Ministry's figures, while they represent less than 15 percent of Israelis eligible for a vaccine.
On Friday, Israel eased more restrictions on outdoor activities. Kayaking, rafting and jeep trips will no longer require a Green Pass, but instead be subject to Purple Badge rules of social distancing, which allow gatherings of one person per seven meters and the admittance of children who are too young to be vaccinated.
In addition, school visits to museums and checking out books from public libraries will also be exempted from the Green Pass rules. On Monday, other restrictions are set to be eased, including on outdoor seating in restaurants and indoor pools.