Coronavirus cabinet approves: 5th and 6th graders going back to school

Strip malls to open, Eilat and the Dead Sea to welcome corona-free visitors

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presents Israel's morbidity rates during a media briefing on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presents Israel's morbidity rates during a media briefing on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
After nearly four months of digital learning, children in grades five and six will return to school next Tuesday.

After a short meeting on Monday, the coronavirus cabinet approved sending these students who live in green and yellow cities back to school for at least three days per week. One week later – a week from next Tuesday – students in grades 11 and 12 will also return to their classrooms.

The cabinet also agreed to allow strip malls to open on Tuesday in green cities and to move forward with plans to allow Eilat and the Dead Sea areas to take visitors. Entering these areas will require taking a coronavirus test up to 72 hours before arrival. Local residents and employees will be allowed to present a test conducted one week before arriving or to be tested for free in a rapid test center in Eilat.

A message from the Prime Minister’s Office said that additional details will be approved and published by the Health Ministry in the coming days.

But at a briefing shortly after the cabinet decision, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that “If we become reckless, we may see a very rapid jump in morbidity, which will harm both health and the economy.”

He said that then the Health Ministry will take steps to reduce morbidity and that he would “not rule out” repealing any steps forward taken if infection rises.

In terms of restrictions, the cabinet agreed to step up closures and restrictions on red areas, to implement night curfews on orange cities and to move forward in principle with increasing fines on people, businesses and schools that break the Health Ministry regulations.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein voted in favor of the plan at the cabinet meeting but senior officials in the Health Ministry said that already this represents a significant breakaway from the ministry’s original exit strategy, which was built in stages, demanded that no reliefs be implemented if the reproduction rate (the R) was more than 0.8 and that there be at least two weeks between any changes.

Newly appointed coronavirus commissioner Nachman Ash also expressed concern over the plan.

There were 620 people diagnosed with coronavirus on Sunday, the Health Ministry reported, and another 568 between midnight and press time on Monday. There were 320 people in serious condition, including 128 who were ventilated. The death toll hit 2,734.

The decision to allow students in grades five and six to return to school means that students in first and second grade will no longer learn in capsules.

The Education Ministry published on Monday the updated morbidity rates in the education system. According to the data, 237 kindergarten children out of 512,55 were diagnosed with coronavirus, which is 3% of the current  number of patients in Israel. Out of 1,072,301 elementary school students, 573 were diagnosed with coronavirus, which is 5.61%  of the total number of patients. Overall, some 1,341 students in Israel's education system and 293 educators were diagnosed with coronavirus.

The data also noted that 17 out of 5,000 schools (0.34%) and 180 out of 21,000 kindergartens (0.85%) have been closed so far due to high morbidity rates.

Although strip malls, known as “BIG” shopping centers in Israel, are opening up, malls will remain closed. Representatives of the Mall Association and the Health Ministry agreed to draft an outline for allowing the gradual and limited reopening of malls, which will run as a pilot program in some green cities before being implemented on a nationwide scale.