Ministers on Sunday approved a plan to require school students to present a negative rapid antigen test for COVID-19 when returning to school after the Hanukkah vacation this week.
Under the terms of the government plan, children in preschools and grades 1-6 will have to present a statement signed by their parents proclaiming that they tested negative for coronavirus before being allowed to enter their schools on Tuesday, December 7.
Schoolchildren were similarly requested to show a negative coronavirus test after the summer vacation and following the break in September for the High Holidays.
Most students in Israel have been on vacation for the entire Hanukkah holiday, which began last Sunday, and are due to return to the classroom on Tuesday.
The government’s approval of the testing requirement came amid continued concerns over the new Omicron variant, with a television report saying that Israel will consider offering a fourth COVID booster vaccine dose to immunocompromised people, after the United Kingdom did so last week.
According to Channel 12 news, health officials will discuss the potential of administering yet another dose of the vaccine to the most at-risk populations.
Israelis with compromised immune systems — including those undergoing cancer treatments — were the first to receive a third booster dose of the COVID vaccine back in July.
So far, 11 people in Israel have been confirmed to have Omicron. Several dozen more are suspected of potentially having the mutation, pending final lab results.
Among those suspected of contracting the new variant are three IDF soldiers who recently returned from vacationing in France, according to the military’s Home Front Command.
The three were staying in a state-run quarantine facility, as they waited for the test results.
The emergence of Omicron, first detected in South Africa, has prompted global travel bans and led Israel to again shut its doors to foreigners. The government also tightened quarantine rules for fully immunized Israelis returning to the country and approved phone tracking of suspected virus carriers, a controversial measure that has since lapsed.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett defended the restrictions during the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.
“Every day, we are reassessing the situation – on the basis of the data we know at the time – regarding moves to ease restrictions or make them more stringent. Everything is according to the data,” he said.
“Some people are saying: ‘But the situation is so good in the country, why are you being so stringent?’ The reason that the situation is good in the country is that we are taking quick and precise action. We know to relax the restrictions when necessary and when to tighten them,” the premier added.
Citing “the current uncertainty” over Omicron, Bennett argued it was better to swiftly impose new measures. He also said it was too early to downplay the highly mutated variant.
“We need to be wary,” he said, pointing to a recent case of 50 Omicron infections at a Christmas party in Norway. “This is a strain that we do not yet know enough about, although we do know with a high level of certainty that it is very contagious. We are still in a foggy period… and we are still studying.”
His comments on the need for continued vigilance against Omicron echoed remarks made earlier in the day by top health officials.
Even as concerns remain over the variant, Israel’s coronavirus statistics have been on an encouraging trajectory, with the virus reproduction rate dropping below 1 to 0.98 on Saturday. However, it ticked back up to 1 on Sunday.
The figure represents the number of people each confirmed patient infects, on average. Any number below 1 signifies that the pandemic is contracting.
Health Ministry data on Sunday evening showed that 245 people had been diagnosed the previous day, with the number representing 0.63 percent of the 40,000 tests conducted.
The number of patients in serious condition stood at 109, while the death toll was 8,204.