Students under 12 returning to school following the Sukkot vacation who have recovered from COVID in the last six months will be exempt from the requirement to present a negative antigen test, officials announced late Sunday.
A joint statement from the education and health ministries announced the change ahead of the return to school after a week off for the holiday. Some 50,000 children are set to return to afternoon care programs on Wednesday, with the majority of students heading back to classes on Thursday.
Students who have not been ill will still be required to present a negative test in order to be allowed into schools, according to a decision taken by the cabinet last week.
Ahead of the start of the school year on September 1, parents of all students in first through sixth grades were requested to pick up rapid antigen testing kits from schools and administer them to their kids, but they were not made mandatory for admission to classrooms.
Rapid tests can be completed at home and results take less than 15 minutes. According to the new measure — approved by the attorney general — parents or guardians will be asked to pick up a testing kit from Magen David Adom distribution sites and sign a declaration that the test came back negative.
The plan drew criticism from school and kindergarten teachers, who said it was not their job to monitor students’ adherence to health regulations.
Last week, Yaffa Ben David, who is secretary-general of the Israel Teachers’ Union, told lawmakers that school principals and kindergarten teachers are not supposed to be “coronavirus wardens.”
Teachers also face further restrictions. From October 3, teachers will require a Green Pass to enter school. Under the current Green Pass rules, entry to certain businesses and events is limited to those with proof of vaccination, recovery from COVID-19, or a negative test result.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Saturday reportedly pushed back against imposing further coronavirus restrictions, even as the number of COVID patients requiring ventilators climbed to levels not seen in Israel in months.
The announcement came as Pfizer said it will submit data on vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 against the coronavirus to US regulators for federal authorization within days.
“It’s a question of days, not weeks,” CEO Albert Bourla said Sunday.
It would be a significant step toward starting vaccinations for younger children, especially with kids back in school in many countries and the Delta variant causing a spike in pediatric infections.
Following Pfizer’s announcement on the effectiveness of its vaccine in young children, a senior Israeli health official said the country will wait for FDA approval before giving COVID-19 vaccinations to children aged 5-11, as it did before it starting vaccinating those aged 12-16.
According to the Health Ministry on Sunday night, 225 people infected with the coronavirus were on ventilators, out of a total of 6891 patients listed as in serious condition.
While Israel’s fourth wave of infections has seen record numbers of daily cases, the number of patients needing hospitalization has remained lower than during previous waves, which experts attribute to the country’s high vaccination rates.
The death toll since the start of the pandemic rose to 7,675. A total of 593 people have succumbed to the virus since the start of the month, making September the second consecutive month that Israel has recorded at least 500 deaths, after August saw 609 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
Ministry figures also showed 2,623 new infections on Saturday, continuing a downward trend, with the number of active cases sinking slightly to 61,134.