COVID in Israel: School year to start on time, lockdown looms as AY3 variant spreads

With an estimated one third of educational staff unvaccinated, a green passport policy for schools has the potential to create major manpower shortages.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Israel’s coronavirus cabinet announced Sunday that the school year would start on September 1, after widespread speculation that the opening of educational institutions would be pushed back to October due to rising coronavirus cases.

Coronavirus vaccinations will be performed on campuses during school hours, a measure to which Education Minister Yafit Shasha-Biton was previously opposed.

She reportedly agreed to the practice after she was told the school year would not begin on time without the option for students to vaccinate at their schools.

The cabinet also announced that all school administrators, teachers, and staff would need a so-called “green passport” to enter campus, meaning that they would need to be vaccinated or forced to submit to negative coronavirus test multiple times a week, paid for out of their own pockets.

With an estimated one third of educational staff unvaccinated, a green passport policy for schools has the potential to create major manpower shortages.

When pressed on the issue by a journalist from Radio 103FM, Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash demurred.

Whether or not it is realistic to enforce such a policy, Ash said, “is not fully settled yet.”

In the lead up to the new school year, Israel has rolled out a mass serological testing campaign aimed at identifying students who may have already been infected with the coronavirus and have antibodies, which would exempt them from isolation should a classmate test positive.

The government aims to test about 1.5 million children between the ages of 3 and 12, but the initiative has been riddled with technical and logistical errors.

At some 400 testing sites across the country, parents complained of chaotic scenes, with long lines and mass confusion as to procedure.

The computerized registration system for the tests failed completely, forcing medical staff to write down each child’s details by hand.

As the government has moved away from the threat of a potential lockdown over the High Holidays, promoting the third “booster shot” jab as the solution to stopping restrictions, one health official said that a new variant of delta might pose a serious issue to public health.

Speaking about the AY3 mutation first detected in South America, Dr. Asher Shalmon told the Knesset that “if it reaches Israel, we will get to the lockdown that we so desperately want to avoid.”

While AY3 does not appear to be more deadly than the other delta or various other variants of the coronavirus, initial findings indicate that it may be more transmissible.

On Sunday, the heads of 7 hospitals announced that because they had not received government funding long promised to their institutions, they would refuse to accept new coronavirus patients starting on Monday.

“In the current state we can no longer provide services,” Shaare Zedek CEO Ofer Merin said.

“We don’t have the medical equipment required or a way to pay our employees salaries. For these reasons we will stop treating coronavirus patients starting tomorrow … [on Wednesday] we will hold a strike – we don’t have another choice.”

Israel has nearly reached one million confirmed COVID infections, with the number of people testing positive since March 2020 hitting 991,000.

The Health Ministry reports that 6,830 Israelis have died with the disease over the last 20 months.


Tobias Siegal contributed to this report.