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Confusion swirls around plan to end quarantine for schoolkids in ‘green’ cities

Education Ministry has reportedly yet to decide where to begin implementing new quarantine exemption, which is set to take effect in days, due to apparent shortage of rapid tests

Young Israeli students have their antigen test results checked as they arrive for their first day of school after the holidays, at Aseh Hayil school in the West Bank settlement of Efrat, September 30, 2021 (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Young Israeli students have their antigen test results checked as they arrive for their first day of school after the holidays, at Aseh Hayil school in the West Bank settlement of Efrat, September 30, 2021 (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The Education Ministry has yet to decide where students will be exempt from quarantine if they were in contact with a coronavirus carrier, apparently due to a shortage of rapid tests, according to television reports Friday.

The Prime Minister’s Office and Health Ministry announced Thursday that the new self-isolation rules for schoolchildren will take effect next week in “green cities” with low morbidity figures. But Education Ministry sources claimed to Channel 12 news they were not prepared logistically and that parents have not yet received antigen test kits.

Under the new quarantine system, students exposed to someone infected with COVID-19 will be allowed back at school once they receive a negative PCR test result. The students will then undergo rapid tests every day for a week, at the end of which they will take one more PCR test before the class is allowed to return to routine operation.

However, some 30 million rapid tests meant for all households with schoolchildren younger than 12 will not arrive in Israel until mid-October, the Kan public broadcaster reported, adding that the Education Ministry was concerned there are not enough tests.

It remains unclear if the tests will be administered at home or at school. It was also not clear whether the quarantine rule applied only to children who came into contact with a carrier at an educational institution, or whether it would also include other situations.

A government statement announcing the plan also did not specify how it would be determined if a city is “green.” The Health Ministry has separate measures of morbidity in each community — an overall rating and one for schools — and the two are not always the same.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office and Health Ministry, the new policy will be implemented gradually, starting Sunday. Both Kan and Channel 12 reported that the Education Ministry had not decided where the program will begin as of Friday afternoon.

Young Israeli students arrive for their first day of school after the holidays, at Gabrieli school, in Tel Aviv. September 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The new policy was supposed to effectively replace a pilot program of mass testing in several towns that the government began implementing earlier this month.

For weeks, the government has been seeking to implement policies aimed at preventing mass quarantine in schools. Since the start of classes last month, thousands of students have been forced to self-isolate at home due to exposure to COVID-19 carriers, oftentimes requiring parents to miss work in order to supervise their children.

The move to ease quarantine rules for some schoolchildren came as Israel continues to see a slide in COVID-19 infections that officials hope indicates the country’s fourth wave of coronavirus cases is waning.

According to the latest Health Ministry figures, 1,280 new infections have been confirmed Friday since midnight, a day after 2,074 cases were recorded. The positive test rate Thursday was 2.14 percent.

Active cases dipped further to 30,807 and serious cases fell to 436, the lowest they have been since August 11.

The death toll stood at 7,885.

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