With full-sized classrooms and no means to contain a coronavirus outbreak, roughly 250,000 ultra-Orthodox children headed back to school Monday as a government plan for curbing COVID-19 infections in Israeli schools was approved too late for the Haredi school year.
The new plan, approved on Sunday by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett after an urgent meeting with representatives from the health and the education ministries, includes a countrywide antibody survey of Israeli children, rapid coronavirus tests in COVID-19 hotspots, and detailed protocols for handling infections.
But with the Haredi school year beginning Monday, three weeks before the rest of the country's schools open on September 1, the agreement came too late.
The same happened when ultra-Orthodox schools opened last year, leading to a major wave of cases that spread throughout the country. The subsequent opening of the rest of the country's schools on September 1 further boosted the surge of school-related cases, forcing the government to shut down schools and to impose another countrywide lockdown.
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The government’s current priority has been administering a third dose of the vaccine to Israelis 60 and over rather than school students, who are eligible for vaccination from age 12.
Education Ministry data from July of this year shows a huge surge in the incidence of infection in summer school programs that have operated on a partial basis in kindergartens and elementary schools without health restrictions.
According to the Education Ministry, there are currently about 7,150 children and 800 teachers and teaching assistants who are infected with COVID-19, and roughly 50,000 students and teachers who are in isolation or quarantine.