Some 500,000 parents yet to collect school testing kits

Strikes, Green Pass chaos and testing hesitancy threaten return to school

Daycares open with a 2-hour delay Wednesday amid warnings of a full strike; union threatens lawsuit and strike as almost half of school teachers said not to qualify for Green Pass

A girl performs a COVID-19 rapid antigen home kit test ahead of returning back to school, following the Sukkot holiday, in Haniel, central Israel on September 27, 2021. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)
A girl performs a COVID-19 rapid antigen home kit test ahead of returning back to school, following the Sukkot holiday, in Haniel, central Israel on September 27, 2021. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

Government-supervised daycares were set to open Wednesday after the Sukkot holidays, but with a delay of several hours as caregivers protested severe staffing shortages and poor pay.

Daycares run by Wizo, Na’amat, Emunah and other organizations, which care for some 50,000 children all told, planned to open only at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and threatened a full, open-ended strike from Sunday unless their demands were resolved.

Schools, which go back on Thursday, were also faced with uncertainty over new COVID testing demands for students and Green Pass rules for teachers.

From Sunday, more than one million Israelis will lose their Green Pass after a policy change dictated that a COVID-19 booster shot is required six months after receiving the first two doses.

Among them are almost half the country’s teachers, according to an estimate from the Israel Teachers’ Union.

Under the current Green Pass rules, entry to certain businesses and events is limited to those with proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19, or a negative test result.

Ran Erez (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The director of the secondary school teachers’ union, Ran Erez, sent an urgent letter to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urging a two-month delay to allow teachers to get their booster shots and become Green Pass compliant, warning that the decision to dock pay for those without the pass would be challenged in court.

“There are no decisions like this directed at any other sector in the country. It is a measure that harms Israeli teachers in a nonproportional way,” he wrote.

Erez said he was referring to teachers who had had two vaccine shots and not those few who refused to get vaccinated at all.

Erez warned that failure to find a solution would put all options on the table including legal challenges, work stoppages and strikes.

Health Ministry data on Monday showed that 4,710,716 Israelis were vaccinated with two doses six months ago, but only 3,243,641 of them have been administered a booster dose.

Israelis receive a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a temporary Clalit health care center in Modi’in Ilit, September 26, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Even subtracting the hundreds of thousands infected with COVID-19 in the past six months, who wouldn’t need the third vaccine dose, the number of people who will no longer have a so-called Green Pass is over a million.

However, a senior official predicted that the Green Pass incentive would work and that 500,000 to 1 million Israelis would get their third shots in the next few days.

“The mass vaccinations will break the chain of infection and bring an end to this fourth wave,” the official told Haaretz.

The pass is valid starting one week after receiving the last required dose, and for six months after. The document, held by those who are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19, enables access to many public places and events, including restaurants and museums.

A temporary Green Pass can be obtained through a negative virus test, which must be paid for unless the individual is not eligible for vaccination.

Israeli kids show their green pass as they queue at the entrance of the Science Museum in Jerusalem, on August 19, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The return to school for children under 12 was also likely to be complicated by new testing rules.

Students under 12 returning to school following the Sukkot vacation will be required to present a negative test in order to be allowed into schools, according to a cabinet decision last week.

Rapid tests can be completed at home and results take less than 15 minutes. According to the new measure — approved by the attorney general — parents or guardians are being asked to pick up a testing kit from Magen David Adom distribution sites and sign declarations that the tests came back negative.

However, as of Tuesday, some 500,000 kits had not yet been collected, the Walla news site reported.

The regulations were eased slightly on Sunday, with officials saying that children who have recovered from COVID in the last six months will be exempt from the requirement to present a negative antigen test.

A father picks up a COVID-19 rapid antigen test for his child, on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, on September 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel — the first country to officially offer a third dose of the vaccine — began its COVID-19 booster campaign on August 1, initially rolling it out to those over the age of 60. It then gradually dropped the eligibility age, eventually expanding it to everyone aged 12 and up who received the second shot at least five months ago.

The high-level coronavirus cabinet will convene on Sunday for the first time in a month, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly set to resist imposing any new public restrictions despite hundreds of new COVID deaths.

While Israel’s fourth wave of infections has seen record numbers of daily cases, the number of patients needing hospitalization has remained lower than previous bouts, which experts attribute to the country’s high vaccination rates.

The death toll since the start of the pandemic rose Tuesday to 7,692. September is the second consecutive month that Israel has recorded at least 500 deaths, after August saw 609 deaths attributed to COVID-19.

At the same time, ministry figures showed 5,159 new infections on Monday, continuing a slow downward trend, though testing tends to decline sharply over the weekends. The testing positivity rate on Monday was down to 3.87 percent.

On Monday, government figures placed the basic reproduction rate of the virus, which measures transmission, at 0.78. Any number over 1 indicates infections are rising, while a figure below that signals that an outbreak is abating.

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