Ministers are expected on Wednesday to approve a further easing of coronavirus lockdown measures, increasing the number of people allowed to gather in public and removing the requirement for some students to study in small groups at schools.
With the current restrictions expiring at midnight, the Coronavirus Cabinet, a panel setting out a policy for managing COVID-19, is holding a telephone vote in the evening on recently eased measures proposed by the Ministry of Health.
The new measures, which are expected to be effective from Thursday, include increasing the number of people allowed to gather outdoors from 50 to 100, according to Hebrew media reports. The current limit of 20 people indoors is expected to remain in place.
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Cultural venues are also expected to be able to host up to 750 people under the Green Pass program, up from the current limit of 500.
The green passport is given to those who have been fully vaccinated or have recovered from coronavirus, giving them access to public venues that are not open to others.
In recent months, Israel has significantly withdrawn coronavirus restrictions by opening companies, events and other activities, as morbidity levels have fallen amid the country’s world-leading vaccination drive.
In addition, ministers will reportedly vote Wednesday to repeal the requirements for some students to learn in “pods.”
The pod system, which limits the number of students who can study together, is canceled for classes in grades 11-12, where there is a vaccination rate of more than 65 percent of students, down from the current requirement of 90%, Haaretz reported. It is also canceled for all schools participating in the “Education Shield” program, which requires students to undergo weekly coronavirus tests.
The move will ease the pressure on schools to offer separate classrooms to each group so that other students who are still learning partially from home can return to school more often.
But in a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Defense Secretary Benny Gantz, chairman of the Blue and White Party, said the proposed measures did not go far enough and demanded that more students be allowed to return to school full time. .
Despite initial expectations that podcasts would also be canceled for 4th graders, in addition to 1st to 3rd graders returning to school this week without the podcast system, ministers were expected to vote on the move on Wednesday.
“Immediate agreements must be made between Education Ministry and Health Ministry on an overview based on the current [lifting of the pod requirement] of first-fourth graders to full-time studies that will maximize the teaching power of fifth- and sixth-graders, ”Blue and White said in a statement, threatening to let the current restrictions expire completely if its proposals were not considered.
The relaxation of the restrictions comes as the infection rates continue to fall both among students and in the wider population.
According to the Ministry of Health’s data, on 10 March the infection rate among 1st to 4th graders was six per. 1,000 children. On April 4, the number had dropped to only 0.5 per. 10,000 children.
Recent infection rates show a continued improvement over the last two months, primarily credited to the successful vaccination campaign. The success comes despite the spread of more infectious virus variants and the gradual lifting of restrictions.
According to the Ministry of Health, only 376 new patients were diagnosed on Tuesday, representing a positivity rate of 0.7% out of more than 57,000 tests. The R-rate stood at 0.78, up from a low of 0.63 at the start of the week.
The total number of cases in Israel since the pandemic started at 835,104 with 4,888 active cases. The death toll was 6,261.
The ministry said Wednesday that 5,286,023 Israelis had received at least one vaccine dose, and 4,878,839 had received both.
Despite the reduced infection rates, the head of public health at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, on Wednesday that Israel was still “in the middle of a fight” against the pandemic and warned of the need to be vigilant.
Alroy-Preis told the Ynet news site that there are still “many external threats that could develop here” – an apparent reference to virus variants that could potentially circumvent the protection provided by vaccines.
And she added that “over a third of the country is still not vaccinated … It’s not behind us, it’s not over.”