Hundreds of thousands of Israeli children are set to return to remote learning this week after cabinet ministers approved an updated version of the so-called “traffic light” plan for containing the coronavirus on Monday night.
The plan ranks cities and towns, and enacts restrictions on them, according to local infection rates. Students in grades 5-12 in communities designated “orange” or “red,” with high infection rates, will learn remotely beginning Wednesday.
The coronavirus cabinet approved an updated map for the plan late on Monday that designates 51 percent of all towns and cities as red and orange. The decision will bar some 640,000 children in these locales from attending in-person classes, according to the Walla news site.
The figure nearly triples the number of students currently required to learn remotely, which is around 220,000, the report said.
The rankings are based on last week’s morbidity data, the Health Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
Fifth to 12th graders in green and yellow areas will attend classes as usual. Kindergartens, grades 1-4 and special education programs will continue as usual, including in red and orange areas.
High-infection areas where schools will be closed include most Jerusalem neighborhoods, Tiberias, Ma’ale Adumim, Nazareth, Safed, Ashdod, Herzliya, Lod, Acre, and several Haifa neighborhoods (Hebrew link).
There are currently 8,188 Israeli students, and 1,629 educational workers, who are sick with COVID-19. Nineteen schools and 670 daycare centers are closed due to virus outbreaks, according to Education Ministry statistics.
Israel entered a new lockdown, its third since the start of the pandemic, at 5 p.m. on Sunday evening. Although set for a two-week period with an option to extend, health officials have already warned it will likely go on for a month. Daily virus cases in Israel have been climbing in recent weeks, surpassing 3,000 on most days over the past week.
The current lockdown rules bar Israelis from entering another person’s home; restrict movement to one kilometer (six-tenths of a mile) from home, with exceptions, such as for vaccinations; shut down commerce (except for essentials), leisure and entertainment; limit public transportation to 50% capacity; and limit workplaces that do not deal with customers face-to-face to 50% capacity.
Alongside the alarming infection numbers, Israel’s vaccination program continued to accelerate on Monday, with the country closing in on 500,000 vaccinations.
Israel began its vaccination drive last week, focusing on healthcare workers, over 60s, and at-risk groups, and is leading the world in vaccinations per capita. A record 115,000 people were vaccinated on Monday, bringing the national total to just under 500,000, according to the Health Ministry.
Teachers are also to be prioritized for vaccination from the start of next week, with Tel Aviv announcing that it will start inoculating teachers from Thursday.
Officials have said they aim to reach 150,000 vaccinations a day in the course of this week, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set a goal of having some 2.25 million Israelis — nearly a quarter of Israel’s 9.2 million population — vaccinated by the end of January.
Israel currently ranks first globally in vaccinations per capita, slightly ahead of Bahrain and quite significantly ahead of other countries, according to the University of Oxford-run Our World in Data.
Health officials have expressed optimism that the latest lockdown will be the nation’s last as it steps up its vaccination drive.