Expiring Green Passes threaten to disrupt school reopenings

50% of educational staff stand could lose Green Pass on Sunday • Knesset approves Green Pass requirement for all health, welfare and leisure workers

 Getting excited for the new school year (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
Getting excited for the new school year
(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

The majority of Israel’s children will return to school on Thursday after the High Holy Days and Sukkot period, raising fears by some health officials that morbidity will once again begin to climb.

To help stop the spread, children were asked to screen themselves for the virus on Wednesday, and the Knesset approved the plan to require people working in the health, welfare and leisure industries to adhere to the Green Pass outline.

However, there is a concern that there could be a shortage of teachers come Sunday, as the Health and Education ministries agreed earlier this month that educational staff will also be required to follow the Green Pass outline.

This means that beginning October 3, only those who have been vaccinated with two shots or a booster shot in the last six months or who recovered or recovered and got one dose in the last six months will be able to enter schools.

The Education Ministry said around 50% of teachers do not yet meet the new Green Pass requirements, though they expect the percentage to rise. At the same time, there are still around 300 teachers and other educational staff who have refused to be vaccinated or tested and therefore are staying home.

A Palestinian teacher conducts a class for students in an UNRWA-run school that reopened after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions were eased, at al-Fari'ah refugee camp, in the West Bank April 12, 2021.  (credit: RANEEN SAWAFTA/ REUTERS)A Palestinian teacher conducts a class for students in an UNRWA-run school that reopened after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions were eased, at al-Fari'ah refugee camp, in the West Bank April 12, 2021. (credit: RANEEN SAWAFTA/ REUTERS)

Coronavirus officers have been appointed by the Education Ministry in several schools to ensure that only Green Pass holders – parents or teachers – enter the school. One school in Jerusalem told parents that although not every adult will be checked in the morning, there will be “spot checks.”

“Adults who enter without a Green Pass will be open to prosecution,” the school said. “Please do not put us in a difficult situation. The health of our children is in our hands.”

Around 50 teachers and parents protested in front of the Education Ministry in Jerusalem on Wednesday against the new Green Pass outline, calling the pandemic “fake” and saying there was no epidemiological value to the outline.

Children from preschool through sixth grade were required to take a rapid antigen test before returning to school and show a negative result on entry. The tests were meant to be taken by Wednesday evening and reported to the school through an online form or one that could be printed and presented.

Students who tested positive were supposed to stay home and then be screened with a PCR test.

Around 150,000 students who contracted coronavirus in the last six months were exempt from being screened. Also, about 100,000 students are already in isolation and could not go to school on Thursday morning anyway.

By press time, around 80% of parents had collected testing kits from the hundreds of Magen David Adom pickup centers positioned across the country. Another 10% of students were exempt from being tested because they had been sick in the last six months. The ministry said it assumed that some parents had chosen to purchase the tests rather than pick up the free ones.

“The data show that the vast majority of parents are responsible,” the ministry said. “As for reports of parents opposing the tests, it is a very small and unrepresentative handful.”

Students who do not present negative tests will not be able to go to class, and their parents will be called to pick them up. If parents cannot come immediately, the students will be asked to stay in a room separate from the other children.

Also starting next week, another 300 schools will join the Green Class pilot program, meaning about 80,000 more students. If the pilot goes well, then on October 15 it will be rolled out to the rest of the country.

Simultaneously, the Health and Education ministries will push for more children over the age of 12 to be jabbed in their schools. So far, around 19,000 students have been vaccinated at school, according to the Education Ministry.

HOWEVER, the booster campaign among the general population had not been going as rapidly as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had hoped. He tweeted that he wanted to see four million Israelis vaccinated with the third shot after Sukkot.

So far, around 3.3 million Israelis have had a third shot, and some 1.7 million Israelis are expected to lose their Green Pass next week when the new rules go into effect. That means they will not be able to enter restaurants and other attractions unless they are tested and can present a negative result at the entrance.

They will also be required to enter isolation if they come in contact a person infected with coronavirus.

The younger the people, the less likely they are to have gotten a booster shot, Health Ministry data showed. For example, nearly 90% of people over the age of 60 had their third shot, compared with around 70% of people ages 40-49 and fewer than 50% of people ages 20-29.

The “Traffic Light” (Ramzor) application will be updated, and anyone who does qualify will need to download their pass anew. The pass will still work on the phone or can be printed, but there will be a new barcode that establishments will be asked to scan to approve an individual’s entry.

A Green Pass will also be required beginning next week for all staff who interact with the public in health, welfare or leisure establishments, according to a plan the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved Wednesday.

These institutions include hospitals, health clinics, nursing homes, senior living facilities, gyms, restaurants and cultural events.

According to the regulations, the workers in these places will be required to present a permanent Green Pass or be tested twice a week at their own expense. Test results will be good for 84 hours (three and a half days).

Employees who do not follow the rules will not be allowed to enter their place of work. However, the committee did rule in accordance with the request of its chairman, Labor MK Gilad Kariv, that entering would not at this stage be deemed a criminal offense until certain other issues, such as enforcement and exceptions, could be determined. Staff members who do not interact with the public will not have to adhere to the Green Pass requirement if the employer says so.

The decisions to roll out both the Green Pass rules and the booster shots were made by the Health Ministry and not the government, according to Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of Public Health Services.

The purpose of the Green Pass is not to “force or encourage vaccines” but to keep morbidity down, she said at the Knesset meeting.

“It was not the government that decided but epidemiological data,” she added. “It is not a government decision to decide who is vaccinated and who is not.”

People can choose not to get inoculated, but if they are going to be in a situation where they could endanger others, then they must be tested, Alroy-Preis said.

The infection rate has been on the decline. Health officials have said they hope that with the new Green Pass outline, morbidity could stabilize or even continue to decline, despite schools resuming on Thursday.

Some 2,386 people were diagnosed with coronavirus on Simhat Torah, the Health Ministry reported Wednesday evening. The positivity rate declined to 3.4%.

Some 647 people were in serious condition, including 217 who were intubated. The death toll remained at 7,692.

The coronavirus cabinet is expected to meet on Sunday for the first time in almost a month. The Health Ministry is mulling whether to ask for restrictions to be placed on gatherings to help stop the spread of the virus. However, Bennett has said he is unlikely to agree to new guidelines.

On Wednesday morning, Bennett told the heads of the country’s health funds the government’s policy was to keep the country open and the economy as functional as possible, while increasing immunization in all parts of society, mass testing and enforcing the Green Pass outline.

While boarding an airplane, he reiterated the policy and said: “Imposing more and more sweeping restrictions on all citizens of the State of Israel is not the policy of the government.”