Ministers set to discuss further easing of restrictions on education system

Cabinet to decide whether to scrap limit on class sizes for grades 5-9; finance minister meets with Blue and White representatives in bid to end deadlock over vaccine purchase

Students take part in a lesson in their makeshift outdoor classroom in the coastal city of Ashkelon, February 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Students take part in a lesson in their makeshift outdoor classroom in the coastal city of Ashkelon, February 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The coronavirus cabinet was set to meet on Monday to discuss a further easing of restrictions in the education system, as COVID-19 cases continued to plummet.

Ministers were expected to discuss scrapping the requirement for grades 5-9 to learn in classes of limited size from as soon as next week.

Last week, ministers canceled the requirement for fourth graders to study in “pods,” as well as the requirement for students to present a health declaration signed by their parents to enter the classroom.

The expected move comes amid the country’s world-leading vaccination drive, which has been under threat due to a dispute between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, which has delayed cabinet authorization of a budget to buy additional vaccines.

Blue and White party member Orit Farkash Hacohen votes during the Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset, on January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Finance Minister Israel Katz met on Monday with representatives of Gantz to discuss the matter.

Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen and the Blue and White leader’s chief-of-staff, Hod Betzer, met with Katz and Finance Ministry officials in a bid to confirm the acquisition of millions more doses of coronavirus vaccines.

According to the Walla news site, the sides discussed two possible proposals.

In the first, Blue and White will agree to pass a budget of NIS 3.2 billion (nearly $1 billion) for the purchase of vaccines alone, with further money earmarked for other coronavirus-related spending approved at a later stage.

The second proposal had an entire budget for pandemic-related spending, some NIS 6.5 billion, approved by the government and subject to agreements between Netanyahu and Gantz as well as the establishment of a joint committee to allocate the money.

The report said that no agreement was reached at the meeting and that Gantz was set to examine the proposals, although he was expected to only agree to the money for the vaccines.

The meeting came as Pfizer is reportedly threatening to delay further shipments of vaccines to Israel over a delay in payments, warning that the Jewish state could go to the back of the line if it does not pay up, according to Channel 12.

Pfizer said last week that it had completed all vaccine deliveries to Israel under its initial agreement and was working on a new deal to supply more doses to the Jewish state.

Israel is seeking 36 million more doses, Reuters reported. The shots will be for children, once they are deemed eligible, and to use as booster shots for adults, if necessary. Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said Sunday that he believes Israel will start vaccinating children in the next few weeks.

Pfizer applied Friday for US authorization for 12-15 year-olds.

An Israeli student receives a COVID-19 vaccine injection at a high school in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, March 17, 2021. (Flash90)

The procurement of new doses has been delayed by political infighting, however.

Late last month, Gantz canceled a cabinet meeting, which delayed ministers’ approval for purchasing additional vaccines.

Gantz, who heads the Blue and White party, said he canceled the meeting due to Netanyahu’s refusal to allow the appointment of a justice minister. Israel has been without a justice minister since last week, which hampers the Knesset’s ability to pass legislation, among other consequences.

Critics say Netanyahu is delaying the appointment due to the ongoing criminal trial against him, and his desire to appoint a person more amenable to his cause.

Israel in recent months has significantly rolled back coronavirus restrictions by opening businesses, event venues, and other activities, as morbidity levels have dropped amid the vaccination program.

The Health Ministry is widely expected to lift the outdoor mask mandate this month, with Ash telling Army Radio on Monday that he expected it to happen next week.

People walk in downtown Jerusalem, April 11, 2021. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

With over 4.9 million Israelis fully vaccinated, the number of daily coronavirus cases has plummeted by 97 percent, Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, told Channel 12 on Saturday.

“It is possible that Israel has reached a sort of herd immunity and, regardless, we have a wide safety net,” Segal said.

Segal underlined that, with most Israelis immunized, the reopening of swaths of the economy and gatherings over the Purim and Passover holidays did not contribute to a spike in cases.

If confirmed, Israel could be the first country in the world to hit the milestone of herd immunity.

Medical technicians test passengers for COVID-19 at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on March 8, 2021. (Flash90)

As of Monday morning, there were 3,484 active coronavirus cases in the country, 137 of which were diagnosed on Sunday.

Of the 37,889 tests carried out on Sunday, just 0.4% returned a positive result.

The Health Ministry said 253 people are in serious condition. The death toll stood at 6,299. According to the ministry, over 5.3 million Israelis have received the first dose of the vaccine, and 4.9 million were administered both doses.

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