Coronavirus: Updated traffic light plan will let more schools reopen

Some 1.1 children will learn in person starting from next week, but grades 7-10 will remain home. *Serious patients dropped to 903. *Health officials mull vaccinating people who have recovered.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein addresses a press conference on Israel's vaccination program, February 18, 2021 (photo credit: HEALTH MINISTRY)
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein addresses a press conference on Israel's vaccination program, February 18, 2021
(photo credit: HEALTH MINISTRY)
Over 600,000 children will return to their classrooms on Sunday, as grades 5-6 and 11-12 will start in person learning again after the Health Ministry updated its traffic light scores on Thursday, expanding the number of green, yellow and orange localities where schools are allowed to reopen. The development brings the total number of children back to in-class learning to over 1.1 million, Education Ministry officials told The Jerusalem Post.
According to the new scores, cities where schools will resume activities include Ashkelon, Tiberias, Hadera and neighborhoods in Bnei Brak, Rishon Lezion, and Netanya, as well as additional areas in Jerusalem.
“Light orange” cities are described as those with a traffic-light grade of seven or better – and who have at least 70% of residents aged 50 or older vaccinated with at least two doses.
The scores were updated twice in the past week to allow a larger number of children to return to classrooms. However, the Health Ministry emphasized that starting from next week the scores will return to being updated weekly – every Wednesday – and the updates will allow cities to return children to classrooms the following Sunday.
While the country is also gearing up to reopen vast parts of the economy, including the entertainment industry on Sunday, a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Education Minister Yoav Gallant confirmed that grades 7-10 will continue to learn remotely at this juncture, in spite of Gallant’s insistence. These students are expected to be allowed back in school some two weeks later.
Starting from Sunday morning, several venues, including cultural and sporting events, gyms, swimming pools and hotels will resume activities but the access is going to be restricted to green passport holders.
The green passport is granted to those who are a week past the second coronavirus vaccination or to those who have recovered from the virus.
As of Thursday, over 4.1 million Israelis had received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, including some 84% who are over 50, while 2.8 million have already received their second jab.
“There is not and there won’t be an obligation to get vaccinated in Israel, nor will there be sanctions against those who have not vaccinated,” Edelstein said during a press conference unveiling the green passport program.
The minister, however, added that the authorities have been working on requiring those who operate in contact with the public to either get vaccinated or undergo a test every two days. A letter from the attorney-general’s office also confirmed that employers cannot issue a blanket requirement for their employees to be vaccinated, while legislative solutions to protect public health are being studied with the Health Ministry.
“If we continue to maintain a high rate of immunization and observe the guidelines, we will not need a fourth lockdown,” Edelstein stressed.
During the press conference, Health Ministry head of public health Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis said that Israel might start vaccinating people who have recovered from the virus – some 740,000 Israelis. She emphasized that the issue was being discussed by health officials and experts, and a decision was expected soon. Later in the day, the experts’ committee officially recommenced that the ministry start inoculating those who have recovered with one shot some three months after the recovery, Hebrew website Ynet reported.
She also addressed the issue of reopening the skies. Starting from Sunday, some 2,000 passengers will be able to enter the country every day, up from about 600 now.
“We cannot fully reopen the skies until we find a solution to make very sure that people who return keep quarantine regulations,” Alroy-Preis said.
Also on Thursday, the Ministerial Committee for Coronavirus extended the regulation requiring all Israelis to isolate in a quarantine hotel upon their arrival into the country until March 1, except for those who are past a week after their second vaccination and have undergone two coronavirus tests.
Further exceptions to the requirement will be examined individually by the Health Ministry at Ben-Gurion Airport upon the traveler’s arrival.
Some 4,084 new cases of the coronavirus were registered in Israel on Wednesday, accounting for a 6.6% positivity rate. The number of new cases has been steadily declining for days.
Also, serious patients dropped to 903 on Thursday night – down from 975 on the previous day. The figure is very close to the 900 serious patients that the Health Ministry had suggested as one of the conditions to begin the second phase of lifting restrictions when it unveiled an exit plan to gradually wind down the lockdown earlier this month.
Of those seriously ill, 351 were in critical condition, and 297 were intubated.
The death toll stood at 5,501.