School reopenings up in the air as cabinet meeting on lockdown delayed

Health Ministry reportedly wants to extend restrictions until Monday, while Blue and White demanding rules start easing on Friday

Hospital staff wearing safety gear work in the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on February 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Hospital staff wearing safety gear work in the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on February 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A cabinet meeting meant to formulate a plan to ease the nationwide coronavirus lockdown has been postponed, leaving the fate of schools next week uncertain.

A new time for the meeting, which had been scheduled to start at 6 p.m., will be announced later Wednesday, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. It blamed the delay on “continuing legislation in the Knesset.”

The lockdown, now in its fourth week, is set to expire at midnight on Thursday.

The Health Ministry plans to seek an extension of the lockdown until Monday, according to Channel 13.

A central concern going forward is whether schools will reopen on Sunday. The lockdown has closed most of the education system and most commerce, limited movement and gatherings, and shuttered Israel’s main airport to commercial flights.

The Health Ministry will recommend reopening kindergartens and some school grades in low-infection cities and towns from next week, according to Army Radio.

These include first and second grades, along with 11th and 12th, the report said.

However, if the government chooses to reopen some school grades next week exclusively in low-infection areas per the reported Health Ministry plan, most of Israel’s major cities won’t make the cut, according to data from earlier Wednesday.

Israelis exercise on the Tel Aviv beach boardwalk, during a nationwide lockdown. February 3, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

According to a Health Ministry color-coded ranking of cities of towns — which will likely change by next week — Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Netanya, Rishon Lezion, Petah Tikva, Beersheba, Beit Shemesh, Holon, Hadera and others are currently flagged as “orange” or “red” high-infection zones.

Haifa, Herzliya, Ra’anana and numerous Arab towns and cities that recently saw major outbreaks that have since been quelled would be eligible to reopen.

A panel of experts advising the government recommended that only vaccinated teachers be allowed to teach in person when the lockdown is lifted, according to reports.

Just 53 percent of teachers have received the first dose of the vaccine, and 27% both doses, despite being prioritized for eligibility.

The experts further recommended opening kindergarten to second grade in low-infection areas, as well as resuming classes for 11th and 12th graders, but only if the teenage students are vaccinated.

It recommended keeping schools in high-infection towns and cities closed for the time being.

The Health Ministry will also reportedly recommend takeout be permitted in low-infection areas and workplaces that don’t serve customers in person be allowed to reopen.

In low-infection locales, gatherings will still be limited to five indoors and 10 outdoors, according to the planned outline. Reports said a recommendation on high-infection areas has yet to be formulated.

Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party has insisted the lockdown ease on Friday.

Party members met Wednesday and decided to demand that the limits on movement be lifted and that “one-on-one” treatments for things such as non-essential medical care be allowed, according to Channel 12.

The party also decided to demand that commerce be opened next week in low-infection areas.

A medical worker prepares a vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Kiryat Ye’arim, on January 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gantz will present a plan to allow the reopening of the economy within 10 days, the Walla news site reported.

Gantz and his party have repeatedly pushed for easing restrictions, sparking disputes with the Health Ministry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Health Ministry said Wednesday evening that 4,666 new virus cases were diagnosed since midnight, bringing the total number of active cases to 73,000.

Of them, 1,104 were in serious condition.

The death toll rose to 4,928. Over the past week, 415 people have died of COVID-19.

The Health Ministry said 3.3 million Israelis have received the first vaccine dose and 1.9 million got the second shot.

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