We don’t want to raise zombies: PM clashes with health chiefs on kids quarantine

PM said to prefer repeated testing of children if a classmate is found to be infected with COVID-19, rather than sending them all into isolation

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Education Minister Dr. Yifat Shasha-Biton with children at the Eli Cohen Meuhad School in Yeruham, at the start of the new school year, September 1, 2021 (Haim Zach / GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Education Minister Dr. Yifat Shasha-Biton with children at the Eli Cohen Meuhad School in Yeruham, at the start of the new school year, September 1, 2021 (Haim Zach / GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett clashed with health officials on Wednesday over COVID rules for the reopening of schools after the Sukkot holiday ends next week.

Speaking at the start of a meeting in his office, Bennett stressed he wants “continuous study, otherwise we’ll raise a generation of zombies here,” according to Hebrew media reports.

Bennett reportedly wants to reduce the number of students in quarantine, and instead prefers to have kids that were exposed to virus carriers remain in school while undergoing testing for a week to ensure that they did not contract COVID-19, and quarantining in the case of a positive test.

Currently, all children exposed to the virus in their classes must self-isolate for a week and undergo a PCR test. Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren have been sent into isolation since the start of the school year on September 1.

“Parents need to work and kids need to study. We need to replace mass quarantine with intensive antigen testing,” he was quoted by Hebrew media as telling associates.

But health officials are reportedly demanding the more strict quarantine rules remain in force to curb potential outbreaks.

Wednesday’s meeting was also attended by Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton.

Israeli children going into 1st grade, on their first day of the new academic year, at the Pola school in Jerusalem, September 1, 2021. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The plan for the reopening of schools was not yet finalized, but Hebrew-language television reports said that after the holidays, students will be required to present a valid negative rapid antigen home kit test upon returning to school.

As of Monday, some 600,000 test kits had been collected by parents from various pickup points, Channel 12 news reported.

An additional plan discussed at Wednesday’s meeting was the requirement to test students once a week, the network said. The weekly testing pilot started last week at four schools, and in the coming week another 22 schools out of some 300 that have registered for the program, will join.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Health Ministry reported 4,802 coronavirus cases a day earlier, with the number of patients hospitalized in serious condition with COVID-19 complications ticking up to 726.

Ziv Medical Center staff are seen wearing safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward of the hospital, in the northern Israeli city of Tzfat on September 22, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

According to ministry figures, there are 68,875 active cases, including 191 people hooked up to ventilators. The death toll stood at 7,591.

The ministry also reported that 6,076,062 Israelis have received at least a single vaccine shot and 5,598,549 have gotten two doses. Another 3,123,303 have received a booster shot.

The Education Ministry was also gearing up for the potential of teachers returning after the holidays without having been administered a booster shot. Before the Jewish new year, there was only an estimated 300 teachers who did not yet receive the third dose, Channel 12 reported.

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