As the number of new daily cases of coronavirus remains high and the number of newly vaccinated people declines, the government pushed off its meeting Wednesday to determine the country’s next steps in the battle against COVID-19.
A meeting that was supposed to begin at 2 p.m. had been pushed off indefinitely by late Wednesday evening, with politicians taking to TV networks to deliver speeches, but failing to convene and make practical decisions.
In the meantime, the lockdown is supposed to end Friday morning at 7 a.m.
The Health Ministry, backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said it will push the government to keep the country in its current lockdown until Sunday morning. Then, health officials are expected to present a staged plan that differentiates between what will open in red and orange cities versus yellow and green ones.
According to the ministry’s plan, preschoolers, kindergarteners, first through fourth graders and 11th and 12th graders would return to school on Sunday in yellow and green cities.
In those areas, takeaway would be allowed from restaurants and cafés, and one-on-one services would be allowed to resume – although it is not clear that even this much will happen.
“Opening schools for little children in yellow and green cities – will this happen on Monday? I do not believe so,” Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said in a TV interview on Wednesday.
The ministry is reportedly debating how to handle schools in orange and red cities. One idea was to roll out the testing pilot program it successfully tested in a number of high schools earlier this year in these areas. This would mean testing students and teachers several times per week to keep infection out of the classrooms.
However, it is more likely that these schools would simply remain closed, leaving 60% of students at home and learning via Zoom – if at all.
The cities that are yellow and green are not many, and they are not large, according to the dashboard provided by the ministry. On the flip side, some of the country’s largest cities are red and orange, like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
In any scenario, gatherings will be limited to 10 people outside and five people inside, as they are now.
Blue and White ministers oppose several aspects of the ministry’s plan and said they plan to push to open on Friday.
According to the party’s plan, the 1,000-m. limit will be lifted Friday morning, and one-on-one services and takeaway would resume. Some bed-and-breakfasts would also already open up.
Then, on Sunday, businesses that are not open to the public would resume, as well as professional sports. Nature reserves and national parks would also be open to the public once again.In the Blue and White plan, early childhood education would resume on Sunday in full.
The fight over how to open up comes at a time when the rate of infection is stable but high.
Some 7,939 new coronavirus cases were registered in Israel on Tuesday, and another 4,666 between midnight and press time on Wednesday. About 88,000 tests were administered, and around 9.3% of them returned a positive result. Some 1,104 patients were in serious condition, including 391 who were considered in critical condition. The death toll stood at 4,928.
The British variant of the coronavirus that is currently prevalent in the nation, accounting for 70% to 80% of new cases, has proven to be much more aggressive toward children than the original strain.
For this reason, Dr. Zeev Feldman, chairman of the of the Israeli Medical Association World Fellowship and director of the department of pediatric neurosurgery at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, warned ministers ahead of the meeting they were supposed to have that it is going to be crucial to open schools under incredibly careful guidelines, to prevent them from becoming the incubator of a fourth wave, as well as to protect the health of the children.
“We are already in a situation where about 12% of new cases are represented by children aged 0-9,” he said in a statement ahead of the cabinet meeting. “The opening of the educational system requires an extremely strict and clear outline. It is not a matter of internal struggles within the system; it is a matter of saving lives – and this time we might be talking about children’s lives.”
Feldman stressed that reopening the classes in capsules is going to be a key factor, as well as a system of rapid testing for students, teachers and other staff.
In the meantime, the schools have not received any direction as to the outline for resuming classes.
The vaccination campaign has not yet had its desired effect.
The ministry reported that 3.27 million people were vaccinated with at least one shot, and 1.88 million with two. Nonetheless, the number of people who are turning out to get the jab each day has dropped.
On Wednesday, the ministry announced that anyone over the age of 16 could get inoculated beginning Thursday.