Schoolkids’ quarantine exemption hits snags, starts only in some ‘green’ towns

Education Ministry says not prepared logistically, many parents don’t have antigen test kits; nationwide plan to be rolled out gradually in coming days, but rules still unclear

Young Israeli students arrive for their first day of school after the holidays, at Gabrieli school, in Tel Aviv.  September 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Young Israeli students arrive for their first day of school after the holidays, at Gabrieli school, in Tel Aviv. September 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Education Ministry announced Saturday night that it was slowing down the full implementation of a plan to exempt schoolkids from quarantine if they were in contact with a coronavirus carrier, due to a shortage of rapid tests.

The new rules, which were set to begin across the country in cities with low morbidity on Sunday, will instead be rolled out gradually over the next few days.

The Prime Minister’s Office and Health Ministry had said Thursday that the new self-isolation rules for schoolchildren would take effect this week in “green cities” with low morbidity figures.

But the Education Ministry confirmed Saturday that it was not yet prepared logistically and that many parents have not yet received antigen test kits that they were supposed to use on their kids.

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.

However, some 30 million rapid tests meant for households with schoolchildren younger than 12 will not arrive in Israel until mid-October, the Kan public broadcaster reported, saying that the Education Ministry was concerned there are not enough tests.

A mother tests her son with a COVID-19 rapid antigen home test in Haniel, central Israel on September 27, 2021. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

The quarantine-exemption program will also therefore only apply to schools for the time being, and only in some locations, and not to kindergarten or other preschool institutions.

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 quarantine 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.

A medic administers a COVID-19 rapid antigen test at a Magen David Adom testing center in Jerusalem, on September 26, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

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.

According to the latest Health Ministry figures, 1,023 new infections were confirmed Saturday with a positive test rate of 1.99 percent, while active cases dipped further to 18,159.

Serious cases rose slightly to 463 with 222 patients listed as in critical condition and 186 of them on ventilators.

The death toll since the start of the pandemic last year stood at 7,904.

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