Coronavirus: Gov’t to meet on schools today as lockdown ends

New daily cases decrease as over two million Israelis already already got both shots of the coronavirus vaccine.

Jerusalem's usually busy Old City is seen virtually empty during Israel's third coronavirus lockdown. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Jerusalem's usually busy Old City is seen virtually empty during Israel's third coronavirus lockdown.
The government is set to meet on Sunday to discuss the next steps in the exit strategy from the lockdown, including when to reopen educational institutions.
After a month of a reinforced lockdown, several restrictions are set to be lifted at 7 a.m. as the country saw a decrease in new cases and infection rate, while over two million people have already received both doses of the coronavirus vaccines.
Senior cabinet ministers met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late Saturday night to discuss the recommendations that they would bring to the full cabinet on Sunday for approval. Already it is understood that no schools will open before Tuesday, a decision that was confirmed late Saturday night.
The late night meeting between Edelstein, Netanyahu, Education Minister Yoav Gallant and Finance Minister Israel Katz resulted in an agreement to return students in preschool, 1st through third grade and 11th and 12th in green cities. In orange and red cities, the ministers will recommend smaller capsules for these grades and learning outside. Students will go to class every-other-day to accommodate the smaller capsules. 
“We will come [to the cabinet] with health recommendations,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Saturday night in an interview with N12.
He said that the Health Ministry’s stance is to only open schools in green and yellow areas, leaving the majority of the nation’s children at home indefinitely.
“We are looking to open schools with a minimum risk of raising the rate of infection,” Edelstein told N12. Though he said that the ministry was open to ideas for how to enable more schools to open, such as perhaps preschools in orange and red areas or based on the number of teachers who have been vaccinated, but they have yet to find a good way.
In the meantime, as of Sunday, the 1,000-m. restriction on traveling will be abolished. Nature reserves, national parks and outdoor archaeological sites will open, restaurants and stores will be allowed to offer takeaway, one-on-one services and work-from-office for employees at companies that do not directly see the public will resume. Moreover, bed and breakfasts will be allowed to welcome nuclear families.
Late Saturday night, the Ministerial Committee on Coronavirus also determined that students who are studying at boarding schools would no longer be required to stay there for 30 days in a row. In addition, these students can now visit other boarding schools and teachers are allowed to come from the outside to teach. 
“It is good that the cabinet has accepted the recommendations of the Health Ministry and my recommendation, with only minor changes,” Netanyahu said in a statement immediately following the meeting, which lasted around 12 hours.
“I ask that the public take very strict care to follow the directives and to go and be vaccinated. The vaccines work. The more people who are vaccinated, with emphasis on the 50+ age group, the more we will be able to gradually, cautiously and responsibly open the economy.”
The government also decided Thursday to keep the skies closed for at least another two weeks, until February 21. That means that with few exceptions, Israelis cannot enter or exit the country.
In addition, the Ministerial Committee on Dealing with the Coronavirus Crisis voted to extend regulations on public transportation until March 6, meaning that buses and trains will continue to operate at 50% capacity. However, late Saturday night, the Transportation Ministry said that on the lines with the highest demand, capacity will be increased to 75%.
The decision to extend the lockdown came against the backdrop of a steady but high rate of infection that remains high, though it is slowly declining.
Some 6,271 news cases were reported on Friday, according to a Saturday night update by the Health Ministry. Out of the 82,545 tests administered, 7.8% of them returned a positive result – the lowest rate in several weeks.
However, the number of patients in serious condition remained high at 1,124, with 332 of whom were on ventilators. The figure is considered critical by health officials and experts in order to formulate an exit strategy from the lockdown, since the hospital’s system is still facing unprecedented pressure. The death toll stood at 5,057.
As of Saturday night, over two million Israelis had received both shots of the coronavirus vaccine, and almost 3.5 million at least the first.
When asked whether full restrictions would be back in place over Purim, which takes place this year on Friday, February 26, the health minister said, “Whoever wants to celebrate Passover with his [extended] family, should stay home for Purim.”
Lockdown: What changes on Sunday morning?
1 - Abolition of the 1,000-meter restriction on traveling away from home
2 - Opening of nature reserves and national parks, conservation sites and locations under the auspices of the antiquities authority that are visited in the open air
3 - Resumption of work-from-office for employees at companies that do not directly see the public
4 - Return of one-on-one services
5 - Allowance of takeaway from restaurants and cafes
6 - Welcoming of nuclear families to bed and breakfasts