JERUSALEM, Israel – Nearly 2.5 million Israeli children kicked off the school year on Wednesday despite Israel having one of the world’s highest infection rates due to the delta variant.
Before they stepped foot in the classroom, students under 12-years-old and unvaccinated children over 12 were given at-home COVID tests to ensure they don’t bring the virus to school.
“Together with the Education and Health ministries, we held the largest testing campaign in the history of the State of Israel. In one day, two million tests were carried out for all pupils in Israel so that we might reach this moment of the opening of the school year,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Wednesday.
The government also voted to extend the country’s so-called Green Pass entry limits to education and healthcare systems. That means teachers and doctors will be barred entry to their workplaces unless they provide proof of vaccination, recovery from COVID-19 or a negative COVID test from the last 72 hours.
In “red” cities where COVID cases are high, students 8-12 will be able to attend class only if more than 70% of the class is vaccinated. If that number is less than 70%, students will learn online.
“We will continue to make super-efforts so that all Israeli pupils can learn,” said Bennett. “We cannot guarantee the result, but we can guarantee 100% effort.”
Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash said the goal is to keep Israel’s schools and economy open.
“I think we are making an educated decision in accordance with government policy. We want to keep the economy open and the education system open,” he told Israel’s Channel 12 news.
He expects to see a rise in cases with the reopening of schools, “but I hope we will see a reversal of the trend in the next week or so.”
Israel expanded its booster shot program on Sunday to include anyone over the age of 12. More than 20% of the country’s 9 million people have received a third dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.
Israel was one of the first countries to initiate a mass vaccination campaign, but the highly contagious delta variant as spreading, even among the vaccinated. Health officials hope the booster shot will bring down COVID infections.
On Tuesday, Israel’s Health Ministry reported nearly 11,000 cases, a daily record.