Coronavirus: Schools stay closed until Thursday as gov't continues debate

Preschoolers, kindergarteners, students in first through fourth grades and those in 11th and 12th grades who live in yellow and green areas would go back to school, according to the Health Ministry.

Israeli children wearing face masks make their way to school in Tzfat on their first day back to classes on November 1, 2020 (photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
Israeli children wearing face masks make their way to school in Tzfat on their first day back to classes on November 1, 2020
(photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
Israeli children are not going to return to the classrooms before Thursday and possibly even later, the coronavirus cabinet decided on Monday night amid raising concerns about the possible impact of reopening the education system on the morbidity rate.
As the coronavirus restrictions started to be lifted on Sunday after several weeks, all political forces agreed in principle that schools should be considered a high priority in the exit strategy from the lockdown. However, when it came to approving a concrete plan, the ministers have struggled not only over deep political divisions, but also over the narrow margins left by the severity of the situation. In addition to the high rate of infection, the disease has recently begun to target children at a higher rate than it did before the highly infectious British variant took over in Israel.
Therefore, while an agreement on the first stage of the exit from the lockdown was reached in a long cabinet meeting on Thursday, a decision regarding the education system was postponed. On Saturday night, the cabinet ratified that schools would not open before Tuesday. 
On Monday night, the cabinet delayed the reopening until Thursday, after several rounds of consultations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Education Minister Yoav Gallant.
According to the outline presented by the Health Ministry, preschoolers, kindergarteners, students in first through fourth grades and those in 11th and 12th grades who live in yellow and green areas would go back to school according to pre-lockdown restrictions: wearing masks and in capsules for grades three and up.
However, the recommendation for orange and red areas – some 80% of the country – was different. These same students would return to school, but in smaller capsules beginning even in preschools, hence requiring them to learn in-person only every other day. In addition, they will be asked to study in the open air, meaning outside.
The plan was met by opposition from parents, teachers and local authority leaders alike.
“The outline to return kindergartens and preschools is silly, illogical and inapplicable,” NA’AMAT- Movement of Working Women & Volunteers chairwoman Hagit Pe’er said. “They cannot reopen functioning in capsules or outdoors. It’s just not possible. Those who conceived this plan do not understand anything about the needs of toddlers.”
Ahead of the meeting on Monday, Gantz said Blue and White ministers would require children in green and yellow areas to return to school. Regarding red and orange cities, preschools should reopen based on criteria such as morbidity and vaccination rates to determine what to do with grades 1-12, he said.
Blue and White asked to immediately activate the “green label” and reopen commercial, cultural and touristic activities for those who qualify for it, meaning people who are at least a week after having received their second coronavirus vaccine and those who have recovered from COVID-19.
Some 4,560 new cases of the novel coronavirus were reported in Israel on Sunday, with 8.8% of tests returning positive, the Health Ministry reported Monday morning.
The number marks a decrease from the previous days. The data was only partially significant because the amount of tests administered on Sundays for the past few weeks has been consistently lower than that on other weekdays, around 50,000 compared with 80,000.
Of those infected, 1,121 were in serious condition and 316 were on ventilators. The death toll stood at 5,129.
Some 3.5 million Israelis have received the first dose of the vaccine, and 2.1 million have had the second. Some 120,000 shots were administered on Sunday, down from the 200,000 or more doses that were given every day in mid-January.