Israeli pupils returned to school on Wednesday with mask requirements and mandatory COVID-19 testing aimed at stemming a surge in coronavirus cases that has overshadowed the highly-vaccinated country’s reopening.
Health officials worry the launch of a new school year – with most students attending in-person – will exacerbate the current wave ahead of this month’s Jewish holiday season, potentially forcing another national lockdown.
New infections have soared since the emergence of the Delta variant, reaching a pandemic-high 10,947 on Tuesday among Israel’s 9.3 million population.
Under what he calls a “living with COVID” policy, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has pressed ahead with the new school year, in part by ramping up vaccine booster shots and requiring testing for students and unvaccinated instructors.
But Bennett’s government announced the new measures just days before classes resumed, drawing criticism from parents who say they were given little time to prepare.
Students under 12 – the minimum age of eligibility for the vaccine – must present their teachers with a parent’s note confirming they performed a rapid test at home and received a negative result.
Such testing is not required beyond the first day. But officials say further testing could be done before or after the Jewish holidays, where large family gatherings are common. The first of those festivals is on Sept. 6 and the last on Sept. 30.
In areas with particularly high infection, schools where less than 70% of students are vaccinated are required to conduct remote learning. Around 10% of Israeli students will attend school online on Wednesday, according to the YNet news website.
Photo: Children enter an elementary school on the first day of school in Jerusalem, Israel, 01 September 2021. Israel started a national quick Covid-19 testing campaign for kids aged 3 to 12 in order to safely reopen schools on September 01. EPA-EFE/ABIR SULTAN