Coronavirus: Grades 1, 2 capsules to end, stores to open

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering separating schools from exit strategy, allowing more classes to operate in green zones.

Israelis return to school amid coronavirus concerns, September 1, 2020 (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
Israelis return to school amid coronavirus concerns, September 1, 2020
Capsules for the first and second grades likely will be eliminated, and combining up to three classes for after-school programming will cease, the government announced Thursday.
In addition, grades five, six, 11 and 12 will return to their classrooms during the same stage of the country’s exit strategy for at least two days a week, it said.
However, it remains unclear when the third stage of the exit strategy will commence as the rate of coronavirus infection continues to rise.
There were 754 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday and another 349 between midnight and press time, the Health Ministry reported Thursday. There were 331 people in serious condition at last count, including 156 who were intubated. The death toll hit 2,639.
The Finance Ministry and local authorities met on Thursday and agreed that the first and second grades could operate without capsules. At the same time, schools will be given the funding to recruit as many as 6,000 new counselors and teachers to ensure after-school care can continue without mixing classes.
The current outline requires up to three groups of students to mix during after-school care, counter to Health Ministry recommendations.
The local authorities would take responsibility for running the after-school programs.
The budget will be allotted in accordance with the actual implementation and is committed through Passover, at which time the situation will be reevaluated, the Finance Ministry and local authorities said in a joint statement.
The decision was made in expectation of the eventual return of fifth- and sixth-graders to their classrooms, a spokesperson for the local authorities told The Jerusalem Post. Since winter weather will keep students inside, the classroom space currently being used by the younger children will be necessary to accommodate the older grades, she said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a meeting of a small number of ministers on Thursday to discuss disconnecting the opening of the education system from the country’s general economic exit strategy. If the consideration moves forward, local authorities would likely be able to open their schools when they are ready, in adherence to Health Ministry guidelines and based on the level of morbidity in their area.
“Morbidity has increased as we have opened,” Netanyahu said Thursday morning during a visit to the Tali School in Jerusalem’s Bayit Vagan neighborhood. “We learned from the exit from the first lockdown that in the second lockdown we would exit more slowly, and if need be, we will also stop, and we are evaluating this according to the morbidity.”
Despite the rising numbers, street shops will open on Sunday. This likely will bring the country to a peak of infection that makes the Health Ministry uncomfortable and will push off the third stage of the exit strategy that was supposed to commence on November 15.
The reproduction rate, the R that indicates how many people one sick person infects, stands at 0.92. The Health Ministry had said the country could only open up further if the rate was at 0.8 or lower. If it reaches one or more, the country might need to take steps backward.
The downward trend in morbidity has ceased, and as many as 600 to 700 new cases are being diagnosed a day, outgoing coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu said Thursday.
“The possibility of loosening restrictions based on the outline of the Health Ministry has come to a halt,” he said in a briefing. “I don’t know what the solution is.”
Gamzu called on the public to follow the rules and reiterated that the majority of infections happen before individuals even know they are sick or when they are asymptomatic.
The highest areas of infection remain within the Arab sector, he said, adding: “There is an outbreak in Arab society.”
While Gamzu was speaking, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that the Ministerial Committee for Declaring Restricted Zones had approved extending the closure on the Arab town of Majdal Shams until November 10 at 6 p.m. It also declared the Arab town of Masada a restricted zone for five days until November 11 at 8 a.m.
“We are talking about a ‘traveling disease’ that travels between municipalities,” Gamzu said.
Since some of the areas with high infection do not meet the criteria for being named red zones, officials are discussing whether to tweak the criteria so that it would include more localities and stop the spread of infection.
Gamzu called on the Arab sector to stop traveling between Palestinian areas A and B and Israel because these visits have spread infection. The National Security Council and the Health Ministry are discussing whether to forbid such travel, he said.
Netanyahu asked the cabinet on Wednesday to consider additional restrictions that could offset the expected rise in infection from the opening of street shops, such as night curfews, which shut down communities after a certain time in the evening, an idea that has been floated around in the past.
Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz and some other ministers are recommending the “traffic light” program be rolled out earlier than planned, while the country moves forward with stage three of the exit strategy, whenever that may be. This would allow the country to both close and assist red zones with high infection and to enable green areas to keep operating and opening up.