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As return to class looms, Israel mulls plans to push vaccines, testing in school

Health and Education ministries to present dueling proposals for new school year on Sunday, including reimplementing pods and possibly requiring frequent tests for shot refusers

Illustrative: Israeli schoolkids wearing face masks return to school in Tel Aviv on February 11, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israeli schoolkids wearing face masks return to school in Tel Aviv on February 11, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel may vaccinate children against COVID-19 in schools, according to a report Friday, as the country moves toward the start of the school year amid a resurgent wave of coronavirus cases.

The government has been campaigning to get as many children aged 12 and up vaccinated and could require those who are not to present negative tests before being allowed into school, a report from Channel 12 said.

On Thursday Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the country would start requiring the unvaccinated to pay out of pocket for COVID tests.

“There is no reason that taxpayers and those who fulfill their civic duty to get vaccinated will fund tests for those who refuse to get vaccinated,” he said. It was not immediately clear if this would also apply to school children.

The reports come as the Health and Education ministries are expected to publish their proposals for the upcoming school year on Sunday. Most schools return at the end of August, but ultra-Orthodox schools start on August 8th.

However, Channel 12 reported that several disputes remain between the two ministries.

Both ministries have agreed to increase the number of classrooms in order to reduce class size. But a debate remains over what ages will be required to implement the classroom pods, meant to keep groups of students from mixing.

The Health Ministry wants the system implement from fifth grade and up, while Education Minister Yifat Sasha-Biton is only willing to have it in 5th and 6th grades.

Students take their highschool exams in the central Israeli village of Tzafria, May 20, 2021. (Gil COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

Other plans that have been proposed by the Health Ministry are to increase the number of classrooms for younger kids, aged 5 – 11, through afternoon studies, the  Walla news site reported

If a child is found to be sick, those who were in contact can continue their studies if a rapid test administered every morning before school is found to be negative for one week following the exposure.

For those 12 and up, vaccinated children will be able to take a test and resume studies if negative. Unvaccinated children will need to isolate for a week in accordance with the rules for adults.

In the case of a widespread outbreak, each situation will be decided by the regional health director, Walla said.

The restrictions and the push to vaccinate children 12 and up come as the government has reimplemented some restrictions as daily coronavirus cases continue to climb.

Israelis wear protective face masks in Tel Aviv, on July 22, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Ministers approved reinstating the “Green Pass” on Thursday, limiting attendance at large events to those who are vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19, or who present a valid negative test result.

The renewed restrictions will apply to both indoor and outdoor events with over 100 participants, starting on July 29. The requirement to present proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test from the past 72 hours will only apply to people 12 and older. Under that age, there will be no restrictions, though rules for those under 12 are expected to be announced in the future.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said the Green Pass will also be reinstated at sporting events, gyms, restaurants, conferences, tourist attractions and houses of worship, while stressing there won’t be capacity limitations on gatherings or at these venues.

Starting August 8, coronavirus tests for those eligible to be vaccinated who choose not to do so will have to be paid for out of pocket.

The decision was approved by the so-called coronavirus cabinet, a high-level ministerial forum tasked with leading the government’s pandemic response. It must still be ratified by the government and is set to be voted on Sunday during the weekly cabinet meeting.

On Thursday, Bennett issued a fresh appeal for all Israelis to get the coronavirus vaccine, accusing those eligible to get vaccinated who have not done so of endangering the rest of the country.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, on July 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“One million Israelis are refusing to get vaccinated,” Bennett said. “They are endangering the entire population, they are endangering the other 8 million citizens in the country.”

He warned that the vaccine holdouts could cause the government to impose a fourth national lockdown since the pandemic began.

Government figures show that over 5.7 million Israelis have received at least one shot of the mRNA vaccine.

A young Israeli receives a coronavirus vaccine shot at a Clalit vaccination center in Petah Tikva, July 19, 2021. (Flash90)

Those age 19 and under are responsible for more than 20% of all cases, but just 40% of those between 10 and 19 have gotten at least one shot.

According to new Health Ministry figures released Friday, 1,281 new cases were confirmed on Thursday, with a further 767 cases since midnight, bringing active infections to 10,166.

The number of patients in serious condition rose to 81, and the death toll remained at 6,457.

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