Corona Cabinet to Continue Debate on Reopening Schools on Sunday

YERUSHALAYIM -
Medical personnel wearing protective gear disinfect equipment outside the emergency room at the Ziv Medical Center in Tzfas, Thursday. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Coronavirus Cabinet is expected to reconvene Sunday to make a final decision about whether schools can open in a week and, if so, with or without capsules for grades one and two.

The Education, Health and Finance Ministries met throughout the weekend, but the meetings ended without reaching an agreement. Some officials said they even took steps backwards. However, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Motzoei Shabbos that he expected a compromise to be made and that the ministries would continue meeting until late into the night.

“We are interested in opening schools, but there are challenges, problems and questions that we have to discuss,” he said.

Last week, a battle over when and how schools will open for children in grades one through four started after the Health Ministry said that if classes resume, children will be required to learn in capsules beginning in first grade, all teachers and students will need to wear masks, and there can be no mixing of students – even on buses or in after-school programming.

Education Minister Yoav Galant, however, said that it would take as long as five weeks to roll out such a program, and therefore classrooms could not open on November 1, as hoped. He also said it would require around NIS 6 billion, which the Finance Ministry said it will not pay.

Over the weekend, Chaim Bibas, chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel, asked Netanyahu to turn the education system over to the local authorities. He said that they could open schools on time – five days per week and maybe not with the exact programs that existed before coronavirus – but within the safety outline that the Health Ministry is requesting. A final decision is supposed to be made Sunday at the Coronavirus Cabinet meeting.

Meanwhile, Israel continues to see a decline in coronavirus cases, with just 692 people diagnosed with the virus on Friday, the Health Ministry said Motzoei Shabbos. Out of the 27,481 people tested, some 2.5% tested positive.

There were 552 patients in serious condition, including 218 who were intubated. So far, the coronavirus has claimed 2,366 Israeli lives.

“The difficult restrictions helped us to decrease the rate of infection,” the prime minister said. But he warned that if the rate goes up, the restrictions will once again go up, as well. “We have no choice but to ensure life.”

He added, “I am not prepared to accept that some of the public will follow the guidelines and some will not. I will propose tomorrow to increase fines [for breaking regulations] dramatically.”

There are some communities, however, that are starting to see a spike again, and they are mostly Arab towns and cities.

There are at least two Arab cities that are already considered red, which officials are planning to request the ministerial committee vote to lockdown on Sunday.

There are also another 11 Arab cities that are already orange, on the verge of turning red.