COVID in Israel: Government to Hold Final Meeting on School Reopening

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A nurse prepares to administer a COVID-19 vaccine shot, last week.
A nurse prepares to administer a COVID-19 vaccine shot, last week. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Ahead of a coronavirus cabinet meeting slated to take place on Sunday night, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held on Monday a final consultation on the expected reopening of schools on September 1, as the surge of the coronavirus delta wave continues across the country.

At the meeting, the premier approved a plan that – pending approval by the coronavirus cabinet – would allow up to 8,000 worshipers to gather at the Western Wall in Jerusalem for the Selichot penitential prayer service in the run-up to the Jewish New Year next week. The plan will require worshipers to wear masks, as well as divvy them up in capsules. About two weeks ago, new limitations on gatherings went into effect, restricting the number of participants at events to 1,000 people in enclosed spaces and 5,000 at outdoor events without assigned seating.

Bennett also approved the expansion of the so-called Green Pass rules, which allow entry into various venues to those with proof of vaccination or immunity, so that they will also apply all employees in health and education institutions, as well as employees anywhere required to operate in accordance with the rules. Like the Selichot arrangement, this too is subject to approval by the coronavirus cabinet.    

Additionally, the government decided to make expansive use of rapid antigen swab tests. Teachers who are unvaccinated will be required to get tested twice a week at rapid testing complexes across the country.

Bennett also decided that in “red” cities (which have high rates of infection), in grades 8 to 12, any class with a vaccination rate of less than 70 percent would have to study remotely (while a class with a higher vaccine rate can come to school). Finally, the government determined that from September 30, inoculation will be measured by having received two doses of the vaccine, and students who are learning remotely will be encouraged to get vaccinated in schools. 

The coronavirus cabinet meeting is scheduled for 8 P.M. on Sunday night.  

Israel recorded on Sunday its highest positive coronavirus test rate since February. According to data published by the Health Ministry on Monday morning, 7.81 percent of tests conducted Sunday returned positive. Israel Identified 6,576 new cases on Sunday. There are currently 731 patients in serious condition with 160 of them on ventilators. 

On Sunday, Israel expanded its booster shot campaign to everyone aged 12 and up, the Health Ministry announced, after an expert panel attributed Israel's ability to curb its renewed wave of coronavirus to the rollout.

In addition, the Health Ministry announced that those who have received their third shot of the coronavirus vaccine, or who have received their second dose within the past six months, will be exempted from quarantine upon return to Israel from international travel starting this weekend.

This applies to arrivals from all countries except for a handful of countries defined as "red," meaning high risk. Israelis are banned from flying to the red countries, which include Mexico, Turkey, Georgia, Bulgaria, Brazil and Spain. 

An expert panel said in a report presented on Friday to the government and the National Security Council that a renewed wave of COVID infection in Israel, spurred by the delta variant, has been curbed thanks to the country's world-first booster shot campaign and a series of restrictions imposed over the past weeks.

"It all depends on continuing to vaccinate," Prof. Nachman Ash told journalists at a press conference. "The mass of inoculated people is the main factor."

Ash said that over the past ten days, the number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – known as the R number – has declined, and that it may soon fall below one person per COVID patient. "From there, we'll begin to see a drop in infections," he said.

"I want the public to know that there will be no lockdown on Rosh Hashana," to prevent families from celebrating together the Jewish New Year which begins next Monday at sundown, Interior Minister and coronavirus cabinet minister Ayelet Shaked said Saturday night in an interview with Channel 13 News. She also said that beginning next week, Israelis of every age group will be able to receive the third booster shot.       

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