Cabinet ministers on Thursday scrapped plans to shutter kindergartens and schools at 1 p.m. each day of the upcoming national lockdown, and will allow them to operate normally.
Kindergartens, grades 1-4 and 11-12 will study as usual during the lockdown, while grades 5-10 will study remotely.
The government had been maligned since announcing that in-person classes would end earlier than usual during the lockdown, with angry parents saying this wouldn’t allow them to work sufficient hours.
Criticism of the plan grew after reports said there was no epidemiological justification for the restriction. Rather, it was made merely to “create a sense of lockdown” among the general public, rather than business as usual.
A Health Ministry statement Thursday afternoon said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Education Minister Yoav Gallant and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein decided to let classes maintain normal hours.
Schools were shuttered entirely during the previous two lockdowns.
Prior to the reversal, local authorities had denounced the government’s decision to limit the opening of schools.
The chairman of the national parents’ union, Merom Schiff, also decried the school arrangements.
“Once again, hysterical decisions have been made, and they are abandoning, without justification, entire grades of students from 5th to 10th who… just want to learn. The compromise reached tonight is pathetic and is entirely disconnected from the situation on the ground,” said Schiff.
The reopening of schools in May and September was seen as playing a part in the wide outbreak of the virus nationwide.
The new lockdown, which is aimed at curbing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, will begin Sunday at 5 p.m. and last for at least two weeks. The restrictions will be extended for an additional two weeks if morbidity rates do not decrease significantly. Senior health officials have signaled the extension is likely.
The rules will bar Israelis from entering another person’s home, except for immediate family members; restrict movement to 1 kilometer from home, with exceptions, such as for vaccinations; shut down commerce, leisure and entertainment; limit public transportation to 50 percent capacity; and limit workplaces that do not deal with customers face-to-face to 50% capacity.
Israel’s two previous lockdowns, in April and September, succeeded in bringing down infection numbers, but morbidity ballooned again as the closures were rolled back.
The lockdown announcement came as the number of new coronavirus infections surged to over 3,000 cases per day for the last several days, and as fears grow of a new, more transmissible variant of the virus. On Wednesday, Edelstein said the new variant had been found in four cases in the country.
Three of the cases were people who had recently returned from the UK and were staying in state-run coronavirus isolation hotels. The fourth was a woman from Bnei Brak, the Ynet news site reported Thursday.
Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv, has been one of the hardest-hit areas in Israel by the virus.
“The woman lives in a very crowded area and therefore it is likely that the mutation spread,” sources were quoted as saying by Ynet.
Reports Thursday also said that some 40 Israelis were feared to be carrying the new strain of the coronavirus that originated in Britain, with a Health Ministry lab having received genetic results that were different from those seen with the normal variant.
The lockdown comes days after Israel began its vaccination drive, administering shots to medical staff from Sunday and Israelis over 60 years old from Monday. As of Wednesday night, 140,000 Israelis had received the first dose. Hospitals were set to join the effort next week, ramping up the campaign, with the prime minister and health officials saying Israel aspired to become the first country in the world to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19.