Daycare centers warned Thursday they would not be ready to reopen on Sunday, when the government will ease lockdown restrictions to allow children under the age of six to return to school after new virus infections took a downturn.
The coronavirus cabinet on Thursday approved the first stage of the lifting of the nationwide closure, which will allow daycares, preschools, and kindergartens to reopen their doors after a month, even as the health minister fretted about possible outbreaks among younger children.
The state-subsidized daycares, which represent some 2,100 schools for children under 3 around the country, said the government decision did not give them enough time to prepare for reopening.
“We won’t be able to open before Monday, and in some cases Tuesday,” they said in a joint statement. “The process of reopening the daycares is complicated and takes several days. Though we warned about this so that parents won’t suffer needless aggravation, the government waited, as usual, until the last minute.”
“We will, of course, work around the clock to bring workers back from furlough, find a solution for at-risk employees, disinfect and clean the daycares and do everything necessary to ensure a swift and safe opening, while fully observing the health rules. [Some time] during the week, we will reopen fully,” the statement said.
The Israel Teacher’s Union, meanwhile, accused the government of acting hastily.
“Unfortunately, the government hasn’t learned its lessons from the first lockdown and is rushing again to quickly open the education system without adapting the kindergartens to the new situation and while ignoring the teachers and the positions of the Health Ministry,” the union said.
The new rules won’t require young children to learn in pods, or “capsules.”
Speaking to reporters earlier on Thursday as the government approved the decision, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein expressed concern about a potential outbreak among young children.
“We are very worried about a possible rise of infections in preschools,” he said.
Israel imposed a nationwide closure and shuttered schools just weeks after the school year began last month, with the reopening of the education system blamed for a sudden surge in virus cases. The reopening of schools in May after a two-month lockdown was also seen as a catalyst for a spike in cases at the time.
According to Education Ministry figures cited by Hebrew media earlier this week, 94 percent of preschools have not recorded a single COVID-19 case, while 53% of grade schools have not seen any cases. Less than half of high schools — 45% — have not had any infections.
The first phase of reopening after a month-long nationwide closure is part of a Health Ministry plan for a gradual, several-month exit based on epidemiological benchmarks. Students from first to fourth grades are expected to resume in-person studies when the daily cases hit 1,000, while those in fifth grade and above will go back to class when daily COVID-19 diagnoses drop to 250, health officials have said.
The government has warned that a surge in cases over the weekend beyond the current 2,000-mark could prevent it from lifting some of the rules on Sunday.
Ministers also Thursday agreed to lift the limit on Israelis traveling more than one kilometer from home unless for specific permitted purposes; allow them to visit others’ homes so long as caps on gatherings are adhered to (10 indoors, 20 outdoors); allow restaurants to serve takeout; permit businesses that don’t receive customers to open; allow visits to beaches and national parks; and reopen the Western Wall plaza and Temple Mount compound for worship under certain restrictions.
Israel has been under a national lockdown for the past month to contain a raging second wave of the pandemic, which at one point reached some 9,000 daily cases. Recent days have seen both the number of daily cases and the percentage of positive tests go down amid the sweeping restrictions on the public. The death toll is rising, however, crossing 2,000 on Sunday — just five weeks after it passed 1,000.
On Thursday night, the number of coronavirus cases in the country surpassed 300,000 cases since the start of the pandemic, of which 40,851 are active.
The Health Ministry recorded just 1,511 cases between Wednesday night and Thursday night, as the daily numbers continued to decline.
It said on Thursday night that 742 people are in serious condition, 246 of them on ventilators. Another 221 people are in moderate condition with the rest displaying mild symptoms. The death toll stands at 2,127.