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Thousands more kids to go back to school as Health Ministry eases criteria

More kids in medium-infected areas to return to classroom Sunday, along with grades 5-6, 11-12 in ‘yellow’ and ‘green’ localities; transmission rate drops to near key level of 0.8

Children return to school in Tel Aviv on February 11, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Children return to school in Tel Aviv on February 11, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

In a policy change, the Health Ministry said Wednesday it would adjust its criteria for allowing grades 5-6 and 11-12 to resume in-person studies in low- and medium-infected areas, in a shift that will allow more schools to reopen next week.

Under the new criteria, those grades in so-called “yellow” and “green” low-infection areas can all reopen on Sunday.

In addition, medium-infected “orange” zones whose ranking is below 7 out of 10 on the ministry’s scale can resume classes. Previously a locality had required a score below 6.5 to allow in-person studies.

The ministry will also consider local vaccination rates of over-50s in adjusting its rankings, requiring a rate of 70% and taking into account the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 and are not currently eligible for inoculation.

Vered Brosh, the school principal, arranges the class for reopening at “Israeli school Beit Hakerem” in Jerusalem on February 10, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Grades 1-4 and daycares in light- to medium-infected locations have already been open for a number of days.

The ministry will publicize on Thursday a full list of cities and towns where the new criteria are applicable. According to the Walla news site, students were expected to return to the classroom in Holon, Ashkelon, Kiryat Ata, Yavne, Rosh Ha’ayin, Sderot, Shaarei Tikva, Gan Ner, Kadima-Tzoran, Tzur Moshe, Kafr Yasif, Nitzan and Karnei Shomron.

The announcement came as the Health Ministry said another 4,406 people were diagnosed with the virus on Tuesday, bringing the number of active cases to 53,048, as infection rates appeared to continue to decline.

With an additional 2,170 cases diagnosed since midnight, the total number of people diagnosed with the coronavirus in Israel since the start of the pandemic stood at 737,644.

Family members wearing safety gear visit a relative at the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on February 3, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to the data, 6.4 percent of the 71,367 tests conducted on Tuesday returned positive.

The ministry said 981 people were in serious condition, including 313 on ventilators, and the death toll stood at 5,463.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced on Wednesday that over 50% of Israelis age 30-plus have been vaccinated.

A medic prepares a vaccine at Meuhedet COVID-19 vaccination center in Kfar Habad, central Israel, on February 16, 2021. (Flash90)

According to the ministry, 4,082,201 people in Israel have now received the first dose of the vaccine, with 2,704,766 also having received the second shot.

That amounts to around 44% of the country’s total population having now received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Around 3 million Israelis are not eligible to be vaccinated, including those younger than 16 and people who have recovered from COVID-19, among other reasons.

The issue of vaccine hesitancy and skepticism has been a concern, with Israel’s world-leading inoculation campaign slowing in recent weeks. But rates were on the rise again this week as ministers approved measures to reopen certain venues and events only to those who have been vaccinated or previously contracted the virus.

The reluctance has been most pronounced among Israelis below the age of 50, including among teaching staff. The government is seeking to pass a bill that will require all workers who have a high exposure to the public to be vaccinated, or have a virus test every two days.

A military task force said Wednesday morning that Israel’s transmission rate was continuing to slow as the basic reproduction number (the R-number), the number of people catching the virus from each infected person, stood at 0.81. Officials have previously set a transmission rate of 0.8 as the level at which restrictions can be eased.

An Israeli medic waits during an event to encourage the vaccination of young Israelis at a vaccination center in Holon, Feb. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Cabinet ministers on Monday approved the reopening of stores, gyms, hotels, and other venues from Sunday, in a major easing of sweeping lockdown measures meant to slow the spread of the virus.

Street-front shops, malls, markets, museums, and libraries will be open to all Israelis. But only those who have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 will be able to use gyms, enter sporting and culture events, hotels, and swimming pools. They will have to bring proof in a so-called “green card” plan.

The decision marks a major move toward normalcy during the ongoing national vaccination drive. Many of the institutions set to open Sunday have been shuttered for the better part of the past year due to the pandemic.

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