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Planned coronavirus cabinet meeting delayed to Monday

Report: Health Ministry to back full return to schools in low-infection areas

Israel has now signed deals for enough vaccines to inoculate entire population — but the time of their arrival remains an open question

Illustrative: Students wear masks in a classroom in the Jewish settlement of Efrat, in the West Bank, on November 1, 2020 (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Illustrative: Students wear masks in a classroom in the Jewish settlement of Efrat, in the West Bank, on November 1, 2020 (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The Health Ministry has reneged on its previous opposition and plans to support a return to school for all grades in cities with low infection rates, Channel 12 news reported Saturday night.

The matter had been expected to go up for discussion on Sunday evening, at a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet to discuss the government’s next steps on the coronavirus pandemic, However last Saturday it was announced that the meeting would be delayed to Monday, apparently to allow more work to be done by ministries before ministers convene.

Health officials had previously raised objections to the swift return of schoolchildren to class. The Channel 12 report did not indicate what had led to the sudden change of course. Other news reports said health officials continue to be opposed to reopening schools.

Currently, grades 1-4 are back in class, with grades 5-6 expected to join them on Tuesday, and grades 11-12 to return to the classroom a week later. Grades 7-10 are continuing distanced learning.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant has long pushed for a return of most kids to school. On Saturday evening he tweeted: “Millions of students must immediately return to school. In the long months of extended lockdown they have accumulated significant educational gaps and have suffered loneliness.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant holds a press conference in Tel Aviv, August 6, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“The consequences of the extended lockdown will be with these children for a long time,” he said. “We must not forget Israel’s future generation.”

Channel 12 also reported that with Jerusalem’s latest deals for vaccines with pharma companies Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Arcturus, Israel is expected to have doses for 12 million people — enough vaccines for everyone in the country.

However, none of the deals guarantee a deadline for the arrival of the agreed-upon vaccines, and with mass global demand, it is still not clear how many vials Israel will get, and when.

And though all the companies are in various advanced stages of development and testing, no vaccine has so far been approved for general use by regulators in the US and Europe.

Channel 12 reported that since Israel signed its latest major deal — with AstraZeneca — long after the US and Europe, it is likely to be at the bottom of the waiting list and see significant delays in supply.

Israel is also in talks with Russia to receive its “Sputnik V” vaccine, though some experts have questioned its opaque certification process.

“We will continue to work to ensure that we will have as many vaccines for as many citizens, from as many sources and as fast as possible,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday,

A nurse prepares a shot as a study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the US National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway in Binghamton, NY, July 27, 2020 (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

Pfizer said Friday it is asking US regulators to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine, starting the clock on a process that could bring limited first shots as early as next month.

Moderna is also expected to seek emergency authorization within weeks

AstraZeneca is not as far along in the process, but the company announced Thursday that in initial trials its vaccine has shown to safely produce a robust immune response in healthy older adults.

The vaccine produced fewer side effects in people aged 56 and over than in younger people — a significant finding given that COVID-19 disproportionately causes severe illness among seniors, the company said as it released its phase 2 trial results.

The manufacturers said the vaccine was undergoing larger, more comprehensive phase 3 trials to confirm the results.

A vaccine is seen as the best hope to break the cycle of deadly virus surges and severe restrictions across much of the world since COVID-19 first emerged in China late last year and unleashed devastation on the global economy.

So far, 1.2 million people have died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Israel is also working on a home-grown vaccine, though it is currently only in phase 1 trials and its development is expected to take months longer than the foreign candidates.

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