Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said schools will open nationwide as planned on Wednesday, after stubbornly high COVID morbidity rates threatened to derail the start of the academic year.
In a statement following a meeting with the health and education ministers, as well as other officials, Bennett unveiled some changes for schools in areas with high COVID rates, including loosening rules for who counts as vaccinated, and reiterated plans to not delay the opening of school.
For weeks, multiple ministers had urged delaying the start of the school year until October 1, following the period of the High Holidays, but last week, the cabinet ruled to go ahead as planned for September 1.
Under the original government plan, students in red cities — those with a high rate of new cases and a high positivity rate — in grades 8-12 would only study in person if 70 percent of their grade level is fully vaccinated.
But officials agreed on Monday to count those who have received a single dose in the tally, making it easier for schools to open in-person learning in high morbidity areas. As of September 30, the model will shift to require that 70% have received two doses.
There are currently more than 50 towns and cities currently classified as “red” by the Education Ministry standards, including Rishon Lezion, Ashdod, Netanya, and Rehovot.
As of Monday evening, 47% of 12- to 15-year-olds nationwide had received at least one dose, while 31% had received both. Among those 16-19 years old, 81% had received at least one dose, and 70% were fully vaccinated.
Israel only began fully vaccinating those under 16 over the summer.
The statement from the Prime Minister’s Office reiterated the government’s plan to widely roll out rapid COVID testing for all students at schools, as well as the “Green Pass” system for all teachers and educational staff.
Unvaccinated teachers and school employees will be required to show a negative test twice a week, in order to continue working at the school.
Ran Erez, chairman of the Teachers Association, said the plan to “prevent the entry of educational staff to their work is inexplicable in every way.”
In remarks to the Kan public broadcaster on Monday, he reiterated plans to take legal action against the government decision as long as it is not enforced against all public sector employees evenly.
The government also noted Monday that, as planned, COVID-19 vaccinations will be offered on school grounds during school hours.
The full coronavirus cabinet is meeting Monday evening to discuss further COVID regulations, including the possibility of mandating the “Green Pass” for all public sector workers, health care workers, and employees of locations where a Green Pass is required for entry.
On Sunday, Health Ministry officials announced that vaccine booster doses were now available to all Israelis over age 12 who are more than five months after their second shot. Officials also revealed that, starting October 1, the “Green Pass” will expire six months after the holder received the second or third dose — meaning those without a booster will no longer be eligible for the Green Pass once six months have passed since their second dose.
As of Monday evening, there were 78,700 active COVID cases, with 1,138 hospitalized, 736 in serious condition, and 163 of those on ventilators. The official COVID death toll also crossed 7,000 dead on Monday, with 7,030 fatalities listed in Health Ministry statistics since the start of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, more than 64% of the country has received at least one COVID dose, while 59% have received two and almost 23% — more than 2 million people — have already received a third booster shot.