Israel to Reopen Some Schools Thursday, Grades 11 and 12 Only in Two Weeks

Preschools through fourth grades will reopen in areas with low COVID infection rates, second stage of leaving COVID lockdown, more reopenings expected to start at the end of the month

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Children play by a closed school in Givatayim, last month.
Children play by a closed school in Givatayim, last month.Credit: Hadas Parush

The coronavirus cabinet voted on Tuesday to start gradually reopening the schools as of Thursday.

The Health Ministry’s plan calls for first opening preschools through fourth grades in “green” and “yellow” towns, meaning those with low incidence of the virus. These grades could also open in “borderline” orange towns in which at least 70 percent of residents age 50 and older have been vaccinated.

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Eleventh and twelfth graders, however, will return to school only in the second stage, which is slated to start in another two weeks.

On Monday, the coronavirus cabinet had decided to postpone reopening the schools at least until Thursday, nixing the previous plan, under which the reopening was to have started on Tuesday in green and yellow towns. The previous plan had also called for eleventh and twelfth grades to resume school along with the younger grades.

The Health Ministry’s plan states that vaccination rates in each town will be calculated once a week. However, an interministerial task force will be able to inspect specific neighborhoods with high vaccination rates to reopen schools even if the town as a whole is below the requisite vaccination threshold.

A town’s ranking on the color scale is determined by the number of new patients over the past week, the rate of positive tests and the rate of change in the number of patients compared to the previous week. For instance, Tel Aviv currently scores 6.8, which means it’s labeled orange. Haifa, at 6, is deemed yellow, while Bnei Brak, at 8.9, is red.

The ministry also presented the coronavirus cabinet with a three-stage plan for exiting the lockdown on Tuesday, of which the first stage already took effect on Sunday. The plan calls for starting the second stage only once three million people have received their second dose of the vaccine, including 90 percent of people aged 50 and older; the infection coefficient (meaning how many people each patient infects) has fallen below 1.0; and the number of seriously ill patients has fallen below 900.

Currently, the ministry said, 2.01 million people have received the second dose, the vaccination rate among people 50 and up is 79 percent, the infection coefficient is 0.99 and there are 1,100 seriously ill patients.

Based on this, the ministry estimates that the second stage would start on February 23. It will likely include opening stand-alone stores, gyms, strip malls, museums, exhibitions, libraries, cultural and sporting events. But with the exception of stand-alone stores, these businesses and events will be able to reopen only if they comply with the restrictions in the ministry’s “green label” program.

The third stage in the ministry’s plan would start once four million people have received the second dose, including 95 percent of people 50 and older, and both the infection coefficient and the number of seriously ill patients have stabilized. It estimates that this will happen on March 9.

In this phase, high-risk businesses like restaurants, hotels and event halls would be able to reopen, though only in compliance with the green label. The exception is small cafes and restaurants, which will be able to open without worrying about the green label restrictions.

If the indicators the ministry is using start rising again, this would necessitate a retreat to the previous stage, the plan adds.

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