The number of serious patients in Israel dropped to 290 on Thursday, the lowest figure since the beginning of December, as the Health Ministry presented the government with a plan to ease up further restrictions in the education system.

A week earlier, there were 381 serious patients, while at the peak of the pandemic in the second half of January, the figure stood for several days at 1,200. Health experts and officials have repeatedly indicated that the country’s hospital system could handle up to 800 of such patients without compromising the quality of the care.

“We can’t say that COVID is not with us anymore, but we are in a great situation,” the ministry’s Director-General Chezy Levy said in a press briefing.

Some 274 new cases were identified on Wednesday, with 0.5% of about 55,000 tests returning a positive result, a rate similar to that of previous days. The previous period where such a low percentage of tests returned positive occurred a year ago in May 2020.

As of Thursday morning, the death toll stood at 6,270, after six people succumbed to the virus in the previous 24 hours, a figure in line with the one of previous days. At the peak of the pandemic, dozens of people would die from the virus in a single day, with a record of 77 death on January 24.

After being on the rise for a few days, the virus’ reproduction rate or “R” started to decline again and stood at 0.76 after going as low as 0.55 the previous week and reaching 0.79 on Wednesday. The R rate represents the number of people each virus carrier would on average infect. As long as the rate stands below 1, and especially below 0.8, the disease is in recession.

There are currently less than 4,800 active coronavirus cases in the country, down from tens of thousands in previous months.

In light of the steady improvement of the situation, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced in the morning that he would bring an updated outline for the education systems to the coronavirus cabinet later in the day, a day after the government approved the increase of people who can meet outdoors from 50 to 100.

According to the new outline, students in fourth grade could stop studying in capsules, similar to what has already happened in preschool and grades one to three. Moreover, if in 10 days the morbidity rate does not increase, capsules will be canceled also in grades five and six.

Meanwhile for grades 7-10, students will be able to cycle between four capsules instead of two, allowing them to attend more classes.

In addition, the temperature taking requirement will be abolished in all educational systems.

“Education is the most important thing, and we are making every effort to allow students to go back to classrooms as much as possible while minimizing the risk,” Edelstein said.

“It is important to remember that with the exception of 11th and 12th graders, students are not vaccinated and we must protect their health,” he said.

During the briefing, Levy said that the ministry is getting ready to vaccinate 900,000 children ages 12-15, as soon as the US Food and Drug Administration will grant its authorization.

“I really hope that it will happen by May,” he said.

The Israeli healthcare providers will carry out the vaccination campaign as they did for the older population, with the support of those organizations which are equipped to reach out to population who have less access to ordinary clinics.

Levi added while Israel has enough doses to jab about one million adults who still need to be vaccinated, at the moment there aren’t enough vaccines to inoculate also the children.

“Unfortunately, the agreement has not yet been signed, neither with Pfizer nor with Moderna because the budget has not yet been approved for further procurement of vaccines, including for year 2022,” he pointed out.

Earlier this week, Pfizer halted shipments to Israel as the country failed to pay for the last 2.5 million vaccines it supplied the country. A cabinet meeting that was supposed to authorize the new contract was canceled amid infighting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz. 

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