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Israel Closed for Business, Except for the Business of Vaccines

Israel Closed for Business, Except for the Business of Vaccines

Teachers and 11th-12th graders now being vaccinated, though schools unlikely to reopen soon

In a week when Israel closed all of its land border crossings and shut down international air travel, the imminent reopening of the country’s education system, tentatively scheduled for the beginning of next week, is in serious doubt as the coronavirus and its various mutations continue to spread through the population.

Almost 2.4 million students are expected to begin returning to classrooms, preschools and kindergartens when the education system reopens.

This includes 280,000 teens in the 11th and 12th grades currently preparing for matriculation exams, whose scores are used to apply for higher education studies as well as for acceptance to select army units.

But with daily positive coronavirus tests over the past two weeks at just over 8%, the daily number of new patients critically ill hovering at 150-200 since early January, and almost hourly reports of increased infections due to various mutations, schools are unlikely to open.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant told Army Radio that opening schools may be further off than expected.

“The mutations have changed the rules of the game. I do not want to take on anything related to childhood illness,” Gallant reportedly said.

The Health Ministry reported that, as of Wednesday afternoon, some 30 people in Israel have tested positive for the South African variant of the coronavirus, compared to 15 on January 19. In addition, according to Prof. Nachman Ash, Israel’s coronavirus czar, 40% to 70% of all new positive infections are the UK variant.

In the coming days, the health minister, prime minister and coronavirus cabinet – which includes Gallant – will take the rise in variant cases into account in deciding whether to open schools.

When the education system works, parents can go back to work and the country and its economy opens again

Teachers, school staff members and those working with students in the education system have only been able to obtain vaccinations against the virus since January 10.

Early in the vaccination campaign, preference was given to frontline health care workers, personnel working in homeland security, and older people, as well as those with pre-existing medical conditions. But in an effort to try to get the country back to work, the vaccination campaign is moving forward with the education sector.

“When the education system works, parents can go back to work and the country and its economy opens again,” an Education Ministry spokesman told The Media Line.

With close to 4 million doses already injected into the arms of its citizens, Israel is ahead of the world in inoculating its population.

According to Israel’s largest teachers union, the Israel Teachers Union, 76% of its 120,000 members working in education from kindergarten through ninth grade have been vaccinated.

“We are blessed that the education sector is finally getting the vaccine,” Edna David, deputy chairperson of the Israel Teachers Union told The Media Line.

“Education needs to be protected. Students need to be protected. A sick child brings it home to all the family,” David said.

The students represent contagion vectors that can spread the infection to the staff as well as to other children, she said.

One young ultra-Orthodox Jewish kindergarten and special needs teacher knows this quite well. She is currently isolating for the fifth time due to exposure to someone with the coronavirus.

“I was in three long quarantines of two weeks or ten days. Once I was in the same room with a teacher who tested positive, another time I worked with a child who turned out to be ill, and just recently my father tested positive,” said the teacher, a woman in her early 20s.

“Now I am ready for the vaccination. I listen to my rabbis who are now calling on all of us to be vaccinated,” she told The Media Line from her current isolation.

Dina Keizerman, 40, who teaches adult ulpan, or the language immersion program for new immigrants, also is satisfied with the government’s decision to prioritize teachers.

“I am certainly happy. As soon as I heard the decision, I called my health care provider and set a vaccination appointment. It is the correct decision for teachers,” Keizerman told The Media Line.

A school psychologist responsible for one school and six kindergarten classes said she also is happy about the decision to add school staff members to those eligible to get vaccinated more quickly than the general population.

“Though Zoom makes my life easier, to test young children in kindergartens I have to see them in person. I was in one kindergarten and afterward spent two weeks quarantined in my room,” Dr. Lisa Kainan told The Media Line.

One 11th grade student in Jerusalem, Mishy Churgin, 16, was looking forward to getting his vaccine this week.

“We have a WhatsApp group and were arguing back and forth about whether to get vaccinated,” he told The Media Line.

Churgin said that most of the arguments were about the uncertainty regarding the vaccination’s long-term effects.

“Most of our group decided to get the vaccination, though two are not going to get the jab,” he said.

Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for the Middle East and North Africa as of 1:30 pm Greenwich Mean Time (UTC±0) on Thursday.

CountryConfirmed casesDeathsRecoveredActive Cases
Palestinian Territories157,5931812147,6208,161
Saudi Arabia367,2766,366358,7532,157
United Arab Emirates293,052819267,02425,209


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