Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said on Wednesday that his ministry was drawing up an outline for the opening of the upcoming school year on September 1 under the specter of rising coronavirus infections.
According to Horowitz, the outline will focus heavily on testing rather than restrictions, dodging questions at a press briefing about bringing back "capsule learning" where classes are divided into smaller groups of students and combine in-class and remote learning.
Israel had lifted almost all health restrictions in May following a rapid vaccination campaign but the spread of the Delta variant has led to the surge in new COVID cases, prompting the government to bring back some curbs.
In his remarks, the health minister stressed the importance of a bolstered rapid virus testing apparatus for students who cannot yet be vaccinated against the virus to the opening of the school year and said that the state will pay for testing for students under the age of 12.
Additionally, the ministry will authorize the sale of affordable, rapid testing kits at pharmacies across the country alongside the opening of several rapid testing stations that will begin operating nationwide this week.
Horowitz also mentioned his reservations about closing Ben-Gurion Airport — Israel's main gateway — and mandating isolation for all travelers arriving from abroad to prevent the import of new coronavirus variants.
"It is essential to supervise the entrance gate to Israel. I want to make it clear, we have no intention to close Ben-Gurion," he said. "It is a crucial service that must remain open but cautiously. What we're asking for is more testing at the airport since that is where variants are coming and will keep coming from."
Earlier on Wednesday, Health Ministry Director General Prof. Nachman Ash said that he supports bringing back stricter health measures to battle the surge of coronavirus, including the Green Pass mandate, capsule learning at schools and mandatory quarantine for all returning travelers from abroad.
Prof. Ash told Ynet the so-called "Revelry Pass" order that came into effect on Wednesday morning is not enough to curb the spread of the Delta variant.
The mandate obliges anyone entering events attended by more than 100 people to present a Green Pass or a negative coronavirus test at the entrance.
"My professional stance is to take immediate steps. We think it is not right to wait, because it will be harder to stop when we reach larger numbers [of active cases]," he said.
"We are working very closely with the Education Ministry to formulate a plan that includes both coronavirus tests and a plan to prepare for situations, where there are more areas with high infection rates, where there is no choice but to reduce class sizes to prevent the spread."
Prof. Ash said Health Ministry representatives will recommend to the government to bring back the Green Pass mandate during a coronavirus cabinet meeting on Thursday.
Green Pass is a certificate issued to those who've been vaccinated with both vaccine shots or recovered from COVID. Before Israel lifted most of its health restrictions in May, Green Pass had to be presented at entrances to many public facilities.
"We will present our recommendation for the return of the Green Pass. I estimate that there will also be a discussion about the airport. There are some options that should ultimately reduce entry [of travelers] from Ben Gurion Airport."
He added the Health Ministry is currently mulling whether to recommend mandatory isolation for all arrivals from abroad or at least expanding the list of countries that are considered "high risk".
"It is an option that we are discussing, and there is an option to expand the circle of countries that require isolation. We will formulate the draft [on airports] during the day."
Meanwhile, Israel on Wednesday reported that 1,400 people tested positive for COVID-19 a day earlier and 150 of them, which account for a little over 10% of new cases, came from abroad.
The Health Ministry said after more than 80,038 tests had been conducted, the infection rate now stands at 1.76%.
The ministry said at least 63 people are in serious condition, of whom 12 are ventilated. The official death toll now stands at 6,452.
Some 130 of the newly diagnosed arrived from countries that are not considered to be high-risk and travelers from those states are not subject to mandatory quarantine upon arrival.
At least 35 of the newly diagnosed returned from Greece, 15 from the United States, 15 from Cyprus, 12 from Turkey, 10 from Georgia, five from the United Kingdom, four from Italy, three from Germany, three from Bulgaria and two from Peru, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Tanzania, Ukraine and Egypt each.