Government eases virus restrictions at schools, ends capsules for 4th graders

Government ministers on Thursday voted to further ease coronavirus restrictions at schools, scrapping the requirement that fourth graders learn in smaller class sizes.

Ministers also ended the requirement for students to present a health declaration signed by their parents to enter the classroom, while allowing universities and colleges to hold all tests in-person.

Other changes included lowering the percentage of 11th and 12th graders who must be vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 to hold full classes from 90% to 65%; allowing for the mixing of “capsules” during physical education courses and extracurricular activities outdoors; and permitting more students at vocational schools to attend in-person classes.

The updated rules will be in effect until April 13.

When not attending classes in person, students have been learning via video interface. At one point, lockdown measures had shuttered the entire education system with the exception of special education institutes.

Israeli students at the Orot Etzion school in Efrat wear protective face masks, as they return to school on May 3, 2020. (Gershon Elinon/Flash90)

Before ministers approved the changes, Health Ministry data cited by the Ynet news site showed 99% of children who have so far received a COVID-19 vaccine have only experienced mild side effects.

“There is reason for optimism, to smile, there is a reason for hope. Even when there is criticism, we are opening activities in the education system,” Chezy Levy, director-general of the Health Ministry, said earlier Thursday during a briefing.

He also cheered the continued decline in morbidity, while noting there were still some 2.5 million kids and around 900,000 Israelis older than 50 who are still unvaccinated.

Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Chezy Levy speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on June 21, 2020. (Flash90)

“Despite the high vaccinate rate, we are still liable to morbidity and infection,” Levy was quoted saying by Channel 12 news.

In a further sign of the declining virus numbers, the IDF on Thursday ended its mission in the worst-hit city of Bnei Brak.

While at one point there were some 26,000 active cases in the ultra-Orthodox city outside of Tel Aviv, the number now stands at just 28, according to Channel 12 news.

That is thanks to the widespread vaccination campaign and likely aided by the many residents who were previously infected and are therefore immune.

Home Front Command troops had been sent to Bnei Brak over the last year to coordinate and run test facilities as well as epidemiological investigations and more, and have been running a facility there since the second wave of infections last September.

IDF troops deliver food to residents of the city of Bnei Brak in central Israel, which was largely closed off from the rest of the country due to a coronavirus outbreak, on April 5, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF held a ceremony to mark the occasion.

According to the latest Health Ministry data, 274 new cases were recorded Wednesday and another 157 since midnight across Israel, raising the number of infections since the pandemic began to 835,486.

The death toll stood at 6,279, with nine fatalities on Wednesday.

The number of active cases further fell to 4,459. There were 280 serious cases, including 152 people on ventilators.

The positive test rate on Wednesday was 0.5%. An identical rate was recorded Tuesday, the lowest since last May, when Israel was emerging from the initial wave of the pandemic, though significantly more tests are now performed each day.

The ministry said more than 5.3 million Israelis have gotten at least one vaccine shot and over 4.9 million have received both doses.

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