Millions of coronavirus antigen, or rapid, testing kits arrived in Israel on Tuesday and will be used for a plan aimed at reducing the number of schoolchildren who need to quarantine at home, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
The 2.5 million kits were purchased by the Health Ministry Control Center under a directive from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for use in the so-called Green Classrooms plan.
A shortage of test kits had prevented a full launch of the plan at the beginning of the week.
“The kits will be used to test pupils in the education system in order to implement the green classrooms plan and enable the continuation of routine life for parents, pupils and the Israeli economy,” the statement said.
An additional 4.7 million kits were set to arrive on Wednesday.
“We are doing everything to keep the economy open, the education system functioning, and to maintain routine life,” Bennett said in the statement. “With the millions of tests that we are bringing to the country, it is possible. With correct, close and flexible management, we will defeat the Delta strain.”
The Prime Minister’s Office and Health Ministry had said last week that the new self-isolation rules for schoolchildren would take effect from Sunday in “green cities” with low morbidity figures. But on Saturday, the Education Ministry said it was slowing down the rollout, spreading implementation across the country over the course of the week due to concerns there were not enough testing kits to keep it going.
Under the new quarantine system, students exposed to someone infected with COVID-19 will be allowed back at school once they take a PCR test and receive a negative result. The students, though back in class, will have to undergo rapid antigen tests every day for a week, at the end of which they will take another PCR test, which, if negative, will declare them all-clear.
The exemption for quarantine will only apply to school attendance. Children will not be able to utilize the testing program to exempt them from general quarantine, nor will they be able to attend afterschool activities. It will also not apply to kindergarten or other preschool institutions where entire classes must quarantine if any student is diagnosed as having COVID-19.
However, national virus czar Salman Zarka said earlier this week that if an ongoing pilot of the Green Classrooms underway in dozens of local authorities proves to be a success, the testing regime may also qualify them to attend some out-of-school activities, although not events with large numbers of participants. Zarka said officials were hoping to expand the scheme to include kindergartens as well.
But it remains unclear if the tests will be administered at home or at school. It was also not clear whether the plan 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 for each community — an overall rating and one for schools — and the two are not always the same.
For weeks, the government has been seeking to implement policies aimed at preventing mass quarantines 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.
Health Ministry figures released Wednesday showed there were 1,793 new cases diagnosed the day before. Two weeks ago, the figure was over 5,000.
There has also been a gradual slide in the number of COVID-19 patients in serious condition, which was 412 on Wednesday. Since the start of the pandemic last year, 7,959 people have died of the coronavirus in Israel.