On Sunday, ministers approved a plan that requires school students to provide a negative COVID-19 rapid antigen test, upon their return to school this week from the Hanukkah vacation. According to the terms of the plan, students in grades 1 to 6 and preschool would have to present a statement proclaiming that they tested negative for COVID-19 and signed by their parents before they will be allowed to enter school on December 7th, Tuesday. Schoolchildren had been requested to present a negative test for the coronavirus after summer vacation as well when they had gone for a break for the High Holidays in September.
Most of the students have gone on holiday for the entire duration of the Hanukkah holiday that began last Sunday and are due for a return on Tuesday. These testing requirements came from the government amongst concerns regarding the new Omicron variant, as Israeli media reported that a fourth vaccine dose would be considered for immunocompromised people after the same was done by the United Kingdom in the previous week. The news said that health officials would discuss the possibility of administering another dose of the vaccine to the at-risk population in the country.
The third booster dose had been given first to Israelis having compromised immune systems back in July, including those who are undergoing cancer treatments. As per the latest statistics, around 11 people have tested positive for the Omicron variant and a few dozen more are suspected of having it, pending lab results. According to the Home Front Command of the military, there are three IDF soldiers who are also suspected of having the mutation, after they returned from a vacation in France. The three were waiting for their test results and staying at a state-run quarantine facility.
Omicron had first been detected in South Africa and its emergence has led to global travel bans and Israel has also shut its borders to foreigners. Quarantine rules have also been tightened for Israelis returning to the country, even if they are fully immunized and phone track of suspected carriers has also been approved. The restrictions were defended by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday during the weekly cabinet meeting. He said that stringent actions are needed for maintaining the good situation that currently exists. The premier said that they knew just when to add restrictions and remove them.
Bennett said that things were uncertain about the Omicron variant, so they needed to impose measures swiftly. He also added that downplaying the variant was also too early. He highlighted the situation of 50 new cases of the Omicron variant in Norway at a Christmas party and said that it was important to be wary. He said that there wasn’t much information available about the variant, but it did seem to be contagious. While the new variant is concerning, the statistics in Israel have turned out to be quite encouraging, as the reproduction rate in the country dropped below 1 on Saturday, but rose again on Sunday.