Coronavirus czar wants schools shuttered before Friday lockdown

Coronavirus czar wants schools shuttered before Friday lockdown

Ronni Gamzu asks health and education ministers to close schools early, saying government erred in allowing them to stay open until Friday

Ronni Gamzu attends a Finance Committee meeting in the Knesset, April 23, 2014. (Flash90)
Ronni Gamzu attends a Finance Committee meeting in the Knesset, April 23, 2014. (Flash90)

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu was seeking on Tuesday to close down the school system the following day, two days before schools are currently scheduled to be shuttered as part a countrywide lockdown set to last three weeks.

In a letter to Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Education Minister Yoav Gallant, Gamzu said that when deciding the schools should remain open until Friday, “the government made the wrong decision, contrary to my recommendation.”

He pointed to the high infection rate and said he and other professionals were convinced that the dramatic rise in infections countrywide was caused by school-age children, especially those 10 years old and above.

Gamzu added that his request to close schools before Friday applied to students in the fifth grade and up.

Earlier this week, Gallant requested that the schools remain open until Friday, and not be closed before the lockdown takes effect. His request was approved.

On Tuesday, Gallant announced that high school matriculation exams, along with activities of at-risk teens, special education programs, and activities of youth vocational campuses will still take place throughout the lockdown period despite the near-total closure of the country.

Leading up to the announcement of its second lockdown this year, the country has seen infection rates spike in the past few weeks.

According to Health Ministry figures, there were a record 4,973 positive tests for coronavirus on Monday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic to 162,273.

The new lockdown — approved by the cabinet on Sunday — is supposed to last for three weeks and will keep most Israelis within 500 meters of their homes, except for basic needs like food and medicine or for traveling to jobs that do not require contact with the public. It will also shutter schools, malls, and hotels; curb gatherings; and ban in-person dining at restaurants.

When asked in an interview with Channel 12 news about what the plans are for reopening the schools after the lockdown ends, Gallant said that the ministry is prepared and has created a program called “Learning Safely.”

Education Minister Yoav Gallant visits schoolchildren on the first day of the school year in Mevo Horon, September 1, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/AFP)

Gallant said the program will see students divided into so-called capsules of 18 and alternate between in-person and online classes.

While not being able to commit to opening schools in three weeks, Gallant emphasized that the opening of the school system would come in tandem with the opening of the rest of the country.

“The education system needs to be viewed as an anchor of stability for the students, for the parents, and for Israeli society,” he said.

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