Israel to Reopen Schools in Areas With Low Infection, High Vaccination Rates

Netanyahu signs tourism agreement with Greece, easing travel restriction ■ 23.2 percent of Israelis have received second COVID vaccine dose

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Israeli high school students protest in central Tel Aviv, calling on the government to reopen schools, in November.
Israeli high school students protest in central Tel Aviv, calling on the government to reopen schools, in November.Credit: Meged Gozani
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Haaretz

>> This story is no longer being updated. Click here for the latest COVID-19 updates from Israel

Despite an extensive vaccination campaign, coronavirus cases in Israel remain high and show little sign of decreasing. Israel is exiting its third nationwide lockdown, and has halted inbound and outbound flights and closed down its overland border crossings. 5,202 Israelis have died so far of the virus.

Meanwhile, Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip await vaccines, though it may take at least a few more months for their campaigns to reach enough members of the population. 1,557 people have died so far in the West Bank, while 531 have died in Gaza.

>> Living with a lingering coronavirus: What’s the outlook for Israeli businesses and the economy?

>> How many Israelis have already been vaccinated for COVID

>> With coronavirus, Israeli police let people file complaints online. But not Palestinians

LIVE UPDATES

10:50 P.M. Israel demands negative COVID test for inoculated arrivals

Anybody entering Israel, including people who are vaccinated, will be required to present a negative COVID test at the border, the coronavirus cabinet decided on Tuesday. 

Two tests will need to be presented: one conducted 72 hours before takeoff and a further test upon arrival, after which the individual will be exempt from quarantine.

For outgoing flights, a person who comes into contact with a confirmed coronavirus patient will only be able to leave the country after completing 10 days of isolation and presenting two negative COVID tests. (Judy Maltz)

10:15 P.M. Important for Palestinians to receive more COVID-19 vaccines, U.S. official says

The United States believes it’s important for Palestinians to gain greater access to COVID-19 vaccines, a State Department official told Haaretz on Monday.

“We welcome reports of Israel’s provision of vaccines for Palestinian health care workers in the West Bank,” the official said, adding that “we believe it’s important for Palestinians to achieve increased access to COVID vaccines in the weeks ahead.”

The comments come as the Biden administration has called for reengagement with the Palestinians following years of deteriorated ties, as well as growing Israeli whispers surrounding the lack of contact between U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since the former’s inauguration last month. (Ben Samuels)

>> Click here to read the full report

10:00 P.M. Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox extremists protests against COVID restrictions

Extremist ultra-Orthodox factions gathered in Jerusalem's Kikar HaShabbat on Tuesday to demonstrate against the government's coronavirus restrictions.

According to the protesters, the demonstration was supposed to have taken place several weeks ago, but was delayed several times.

The demonstrators, hailing from extremist factions of the ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem, held signs reading "It is better for us to rot in prison miserable than to live a life without Torah and mitzvot," among others. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

Israeli election campaign finally begins: Who's up? Who's down? Who's in? Who's Out? LISTEN

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9:40 P.M. Migrant workers, asylum seekers receive COVID vaccine

The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality and Ichilov Hospital kicked off the first vaccination campaign on Tuesday, aiming to inoculate the country’s tens of thousands of asylum seekers and migrant workers, hailing from countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and North America.

Hundreds of migrant workers and asylum seekers stood in a line snaking across a parking lot in south Tel Aviv Tuesday morning, eagerly awaiting their first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

The foreign workers were asked to fill out a short form asking only for their age, passport number and basic health information – in keeping with a promise that no information would be taken that might compromise them to the immigration authorities. (Allison Kaplan Sommer)

>> Click here to read the full report

8:21 P.M. Cabinet approves reopening schools

The coronavirus cabinet has approved the gradual reopening of schools, as per the Health Ministry's recommendation, beginning Thursday.

On Thursday, preschoolers through fourth graders will return to school in areas with low infection rates, as well as in "borderline" areas where infection rates are slightly higher, but at least 70 percent of the population over 50 years old is vaccinated. 

Grades 11 and 12 will remain closed for another two weeks, in which the second phase of exiting lockdown will begin. (Judy Maltz and Ido Efrati)

>> Click here to read the full report

6:45 P.M. Hebrew University to reopen next month to vaccinated, recovered students

The administration of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem is planning to reopen its campus for the March semester to students who have been vaccinated against or have recovered from the coronavirus.

According to the university's plan, students who do not meet either criterion will only be able to attend classes remotely. Heads of the university called on students to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Students received an announcement from the school on Tuesday saying that due to the fact that it takes a process of about four weeks to develop antibodies against the virus, "it is of great importance that those who have not yet done so get vaccinated in the coming days."

According to the university leadership, the entire administration has already been vaccinated, as has nearly all of the academic and administrative staff. "It is upon us all to act against the virus, through broad vaccination. Not vaccinating risks lives," the administration's announcement said. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

6:20 P.M. Cabinet to discuss reopening school in areas with low infection rates, high vaccine rates

According to the Health Ministry's current plan for reopening schools, which the coronavirus cabinet is expected to discuss Tuesday night, kindergarten through eighth grade students, as well as 11th and 12th graders, will return to school in areas with relatively low infection rates. The recommendation states that students can go back to schools in "orange" areas, or places with slightly higher infection rates, if 70 percent or more of residents over age 50 are vaccinated. (Ido Efrati and Judy Maltz)

1:54 P.M. Almost no coronavirus deaths among people vaccinated, Netanyahu says

Fewer than 3% of COVID-19 deaths in Israel over the past month were people who had been vaccinated against the disease, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday, as his government tries to increase turnout for the Pfizer shots. (Reuters)

1:20 P.M. Dozens of ultra-Orthodox schools remain open against regulations

Many dozens of Haredi schools are currently open in predominantly ultra-Orthodox cities, in violation of coronavirus restrictions.

These schools belong to the extremist factions in the ultra-Orthodox community, as well as the mainstream Hassidic factions. The schools have been operating since a third lockdown was imposed in late December. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

11:00 A.M. Almost 40 percent of Israelis vaccinated 

Israel inoculated 34,869 people for the first time on Monday, meaning that more than 3.5 million people, or 38.2 percent of the population, had received the first dose of the COVID vaccine. Another 46,338 were given the second dose.

More than 2.1 million people (23.2 percent of the population) so far have received both doses, with studies showing the vaccine as overwhelmingly effective against the illness. (Haaretz)

10:17 A.M. Israel registers over 7,500 new cases, death toll nears 5,200

7,761 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 on Monday, Israel's Health Ministry said, the equivalent of 8.8 percent of all tests conducted. It brings the total of active cases to 70,120. 

Of those, 1,088 are currently hsopitalized, with 404 of them in serious condition. Of those, 306 are currently on ventilators. (Haaretz)

MONDAY

10:02 P.M. Coronavirus cabinet to weigh reopening preschool through fourth grade 

The coronavirus cabinet will meet Tuesday night to discuss reopening schools for preschool through fourth grade in cities and towns with low incidence of coronavirus infection, starting on Thursday.  (Judy Maltz)

9:45 P.M. Coronavirus cabinet approves keeping schools closed

The coronavirus cabinet has approved keeping schools closed through Thursday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Education Minister Yoav Gallant and the National Security Council are still discussing a plan for reopening schools next week, but it is not yet known whether they will make a decision by the end of Tuesday night. (Judy Maltz)

8:30 P.M. Tel Aviv, Ichilov Hospital to vaccinate asylum seekers and migrant workers starting Tuesday

The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality and Ichilov Hospital will on Tuesday launch a campaign to vaccinate asylum seekers and migrant workers, who are ineligible for vaccinations through the health maintenance organizations.

During the first stage, the vaccination center in the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood, located on 6 Hagalil Street, will be able to vaccinate over 600 people a day, and will eventually be able to handle 2,000 people daily. Those coming to the center need not be residents of Tel Aviv; the employees there will not be checking addresses.

The center will have 14 vaccination booths that will be manned by Ichilov staffers, and will be open from Sunday through Thursday between 10 A.M. and 6 P.M., and Fridays from 9 A.M. to 2 P.M. The center is open to the entire foreign population aged 16 and over.

The statement issued by the city and the hospital explicitly states that those coming to be vaccinated will not be questioned by the immigration authorities. (Lee Yaron)

>> Read the full report here

8 P.M. Greece, Israel sign tourism pact during PM's visit

Greece and Israel signed an accord on Monday to ease travel restrictions to Greece for Israelis with proof of COVID-19 vaccination, a move Athens hopes will support its bid to use vaccination certificates to save its battered tourism sector.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has pushed the idea of using standardized certificates showing travellers have received an inoculation as a means of opening up international travel for the vital summer season.

"We need to facilitate travellers once they provide easy proof of vaccination and this is what we intend to do with Israel," he said at a live-streamed joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. (Reuters)

7:48 P.M. Gantz demands Netanyahu publish minutes of cabinet meetings

Following leaks published on Sunday of a recent vitriolic meeting in the government’s COVID cabinet, Defense Minister Benny Gantz has formally requested that the prime minister and the cabinet secretary publish the minutes of all cabinet meetings about the pandemic.  

Such a step would require amending a government regulation.

On Sunday, Israeli media reported that Netanyahu told Gantz "blood will be on your hands," during a cabinet meeting, in an apparent argument over whether or not to extend an unpopular third lockdown, which was partially lifted on Sunday morning.

"The public's confidence in the government has been eroded. Since cabinet members have chosen to selectively publish leaks and excerpts the government regulations must be amended to expose the public to the full transcripts," Gantz wrote in his appeal. (Jonathan Lis)

6:42 P.M. Netanyahu says economy will reopen according to infection, vaccination rates

At a ceremony welcoming Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the economy will reopen in stages, in what he termed an "integrated traffic light" plan.

"We'll carefully reopen schools in green and yellow areas in the coming days," Netanyahu said, adding that the graduated exit from lockdown will rely both on infection and vaccination rates in each locale. 

Netanyahu added that in April, according to discussions with the CEOs of Pfizer and Moderna, the vaccination campaign will be able to be extended to children. (Jonathan Lis)

4:55 P.M. After discussion, ministers decide to keep schools closed Tuesday

Schools will remain closed on Tuesday despite Israel's emergence from the coronavirus lockdown. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consulted with the defense minister, health minister, education minister, and experts from the Health Ministry on the spread of the U.K. variant of the virus and its implications on Monday evening. They agreed that schools should remain closed Tuesday.

Discussions among the ministers on the reopening of the education system are ongoing. (Haaretz)

3:25 P.M. Pfizer and BioNTech say their vaccine is effective against the U.K. and South African variants of the coronavirus

The vaccine developed by German firm BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer is effective against the two virulent variants of the coronavirus that first emerged in Britain and South Africa, the companies said on Monday.

They cited the results of in-vitro studies published in the Nature Medicine journal, which showed that the blood of 20 people already vaccinated with the mRNA drug was able to neutralize those two key mutations of the virus.

The data was first shared online in late January but had not yet been peer-reviewed. With the publication of the results, the studies conducted by Pfizer and the University of Texas have been confirmed by the broader scientific community.

Pfizer and BioNTech have vowed to continue monitoring emerging coronavirus strains and conduct studies on their vaccine's real-world effectiveness. (dpa)

2:34 P.M. Labor leader calls to strip education minister of his powers

Merav Michaeli, the leader of the Labor party, called for the Education Minister Yoav Gallant to be stripped of his powers to reopen schools during the pandemic, and for local authorities to take the mantle, as the debate sharpens around the mismanagement of Israel's education system.

Michaeli called on Monday for the power to be transferred to local authorities, who understand the local data better, and are positioned to faciliate capsule or outdoor learning.

Israel's schools are yet to reopen following the cabinet decision to end lockdown on Sunday morning. 

"It is impossible to run the entire education system in total disconnect from the field and from what is best for our girls and boys," she added. (Jonathan Lis)

2:10 P.M. Israeli mayor to prohibit staff from entering schools without vaccine

Educational institutions in the central city of Yavne will be out of bounds to teaching staff that are not inoculated against coronavirus in order to "protect the city's children," Mayor Tzvi Gov-Ari said on Monday.

Yavne has recently experienced a spiraling rate of coronavirus infection and has been designated as a “red city” under Israel’s “traffic light system,” which imposes restrictions on cities according to the local infection rate.

The mayor said that teaching and municipal staff will be prohibited from working unless they get vaccinated or present a negative coronavirus test on every 24 hours. A refusal to comply "will be at the expense of sick leave or annual leave or pay," he added. (Bar Peleg)

11:50 A.M. Netanyahu to hold COVID meeting at noon

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold a coronavirus consultation at noon, continuing on from the cabinet meeting on Sunday evening.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and the coronavirus czar, Prof. Nachman Ash, will be in attendance. (Haaretz)

11:40 A.M. Netanyahu's tight schedule pushes back cabinet decision on reopening schools    

The cabinet is expected to meet on Monday evening to continue its discussion on reopening the education system and the exit from the lockdown – after the cabinet meeting on Sunday evening ended without making any decision. 

Due to Netanyahu’s busy schedule, the meeting will most likely start very late in the evening.

As a result, the partial reopening of the school system originally planned for Tuesday – based on the framework designed by the education and health ministries – is in doubt.

By decision of the judges, Netanyahu had to attend a hearing earlier on Monday and respond to corruption charges against him in three cases. He pleaded not guilty. 

He is also scheduled to meet the Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis in the afternoon, who will arrive in Israel for a visit of just a few hours. The two are expected to announce their intentions of signing an agreement to mutually recognize the other country’s immunization certificates, which will allow the renewal of tourism between Israel and Greece. (Judy Maltz)

SUNDAY

11:50 P.M. Education Minister says willing to keep schools closed

Yoav Gallant said at a cabinet meeting on lifting restrictions: “If the education system should stay closed in order to overcome the pandemic, we should do it.” 

No decision has been made on reopening schools, but Gallant’s remarks point to a willingness by cabinet ministers to delay it beyond Tuesday, as some proposals discussed by ministers call for. (Judy Maltz)

11:45 P.M. Cabinet adjourns meeting without taking decisions

Israel's government ministers were supposed to take crucial decisions regarding next steps in bringing the country out of lockdown – but failed to do so.

The cabinet is aiming to reconvene on Monday, if the prime minister's schedule allows it: Netanyahu is appearing in his corruption trial in the morning, and is scheduled to meet with the Greek prime minister who came to visit the country for a few hours.

"As hours go by, we understand we have a very narrow margin of error," Benjamin Netanyahu said after the meeting. (Judy Maltz)

10:56 P.M. Netanyahu, Gantz trade barbs in leaked recordings of cabinet meeting

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz argued during the cabinet meeting about lifting some lockdown restrictions. In recordings broadcast on Channel 12 News and Kan public broadcaster, Netanyahu is heard yelling at Gantz, who was pushing for some opening of the economy, “The lives of many Israelis will be on your hands.”

According to Netanyahu at the meeting, the position of Kahol Lavan regarding the lockdown stemmed from political considerations. “The public knows well what your game is,” the premier is heard saying. “They understand that you are sentencing a lot of Israelis to harsh morbidity and harsh death.”

Gantz retorted, “Don’t teach me about responsibility for human life. You’re pulling the wool over the public’s eyes.” When Netanyahu said the reason the cabinet had to discuss extending the lockdown at the last minute was Gantz’s insistence on passing the law to increase fines for violations, Gantz said, “We could have had the discussion about the lockdown without the fines, it’s not so … the story with the fines took two months, you know that. It sat for two months and wasn’t advanced.”

After the recordings were broadcast, Gantz said in a statement, “Pursuant to the tendentious and serious leaks from a cabinet discussion, the defense minister demands that the minutes of all cabinet discussions on the coronavirus and of the coronavirus cabinet be published in full, not just leaks for the prime minister’s personal and legal needs.” (Haaretz)

10:45 P.M. Thousands attend funeral of prominent Bnei Brak rabbi

Thousands are attending a funeral in the ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak, despite restrictions on large gatherings. Large police forces are present in the vicinity of the cemetery where Rabbi Chaim Meir Halevy Wosner is being laid to rest. 

Rabbi Wosner was the head rabbi of the Sages of Lublin Yeshiva and died on Sunday at the age of 83 after contracting COVID-19.

Although senior police officials told community representatives to limit the funeral to the rabbi’s family only, announcements were heard in the city throughout the day, calling for a funeral.

In 2015, two people were trampled to death at the funeral for Rabbi Wosner’s father, the prominent Bnei Brak Haredi Rabbi Shmuel Halevy Wosner. (Bar Peleg

10:02 P.M. Coronavirus czar presents plan for reopening

Israel’s coronavirus czar, Prof. Nachman Ash, presented to the cabinet his three-phase proposal for reopening schools and businesses. The first phase, in which all restrictions on movement would be removed and some businesses and classes would be allowed to resume activity, calls for 80 percent of Israelis over 50 to be vaccinated and 2 million people across all age groups after their second dose of the vaccine. It also requires an R number, representing the average infection rate, lower than 1 – meaning the pandemic is slowing, and fewer than 1,000 patients in serious condition.

There are already more than 2 million Israelis who received the second dose of the vaccine, according to Health Ministry figures, but there are more than 1,100 patients in serious condition. The vaccination rate among Israelis 80 and older is just below 80 percent.

The next two phases of Ash’s plan, which would allow more sectors of the economy to reopen, call for more people vaccinated and fewer patients in serious condition. (Judy Maltz)

7:30 P.M. Cabinet meets to debate school, commerce reopening

After a three-hour delay, government ministers opened their meeting on further easing of current measures, specifically reopening schools and commerce. The cabinet is also set to debate reopening Israel's borders and cultural institutions.

It is expected to approve full reopening of preschools for children up to 3 years of age, and preschools and schools for other age groups in cities and areas with relatively low rates of infection. (Judy Maltz and Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

>> Click here to read the full report

2:45 P.M. Dozens of ultra-Orthodox schools operating in violation of restrictions

Dozens of ultra-Orthodox schools are operating in Haredi cities in violation of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. These are schools belonging to more extreme factions in the ultra-Orthodox community, as well as in the mainstream Hasidic community, some of whose institutions have continued to operate throughout the lockdown. 

Additionally, in recent weeks, some schools from the "Lithuanian" non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox community have also reopened, albeit with reduced operations, with the permission of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, its spiritual leader.

Police forces have been enforcing regulations in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods associated with extreme factions in Beit Shemesh, Ashdod and Jerusalem, where fines were given to schools that remained open. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

2:16 P.M. Israel to discuss gradual plan for reopening schools after lockdown

Israel's coronavirus cabinet is expected to discuss a plan on Sunday for gradually reopening schools as Israel exits its third nationwide lockdown.

According to the plan, made public on Sunday morning, kindergartens and grades one through four will return to school, along with grades 11 and 12, in communities designated “yellow” and “green,” meaning they have lower infection rates.

In communities designated “orange” and “red” – with higher instances of the coronavirus – half of each class will come to school every other day, and classes will be held outdoors only. Grades five through ten will continue distance learning in all communities. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia and Ido Efrati)

>> For full report click here

10:20 A.M.  Health Ministry agreed to partial reopening of schools in 'red' towns, education minister says

Education Minister Yoav Gallant said Sunday that the Health Ministry agreed during discussions a day earlier to reopen schools only partially (kindergartens, grades one through four, and grades 11 and 12) and only in so-called green and yellow towns, but eventually agreed to compromise and partially reopen schools, under strict regulations, in red and orange cities. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

7:00 A.M. Third lockdown ends but schools remain closed

A series of lockdown restrictions were lifted on Sunday morning, as the government begins a gradual end to the nationwide lockdown. 

The following restrictions were lifted: 

1. Travel limit of one kilometer from one's home

2. Ban on visiting the house of another person 

3. Closure of national parks 

4. Ban on workplaces that don't receive customers 

5. Ban on one-on-one services, such as beauty salons 

6. Ban on picking up takeaway from restaurants 

Schools remained closed, with the cabinet agreeing on Saturday night to begin reopening them on Tuesday at 7 A.M. They will likely begin to reopen gradually, according to sources in the Education Ministry.

The cabinet is expected to convene on Sunday to discuss plans for reopening schools. (Judy Maltz)

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