Israeli children have become hostages to the government’s current COVID-19 policies, charged hundreds of Israeli doctors in a letter to Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz.
While the government is doing everything it can to avoid a nationwide lockdown, parents have been feeling the pressure as their children are sent home from school repeatedly following exposure to classmates infected with coronavirus. Classes with numerous infected students are instructed to switch to distance learning.
But this policy is entirely “meaningless” in the face of the highly-contagious Omicron variant and the fact that the rest of the country is being kept open, wrote 236 doctors from across the country.
What’s more, it’s having a detrimental effect on children.
“It’s painful to see children imprisoned in their homes while the rest of the population is free to do as they please,” the doctors told Horowitz. “Children should be the first to return to routine, not only because they are not at risk but also (and most importantly) because they must be a priority.”
Instead, in service to policies aimed at preventing the collapse of Israel’s economy, school children have become “hostages of a concept that is no longer relevant,” added the doctors, who concluded with a plea to “immediately cease quarantining of children that leads to mental and emotional harm.”
Public pressure bears fruit
Hours after the doctors’ letter was published by the mainstream media, Health Ministry officials announced that by the end of the month a new policy would go into effect under which asymptomatic children would no longer be sent to quarantine following exposure to infected classmates.
What the government does want to see is more regular home testing using rapid antigen test kits, which will be provided to parents by the Ministry of Education. Children who are negative for COVID-19 can continue attending class regardless of exposure under the upcoming guidelines.
Public pressure also resulted in the government this week shortening the quarantine period to just five days even for those who test positive for COVID-19, so long as they are asymptomatic.
Health Ministry Director General Nachman Ash warned that Israel was taking a risk with this new policy, but said the government could no longer ignore public pressure.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid had proposed shortening quarantine to just three days for infected individuals, but was rebuffed by health officials. Ash said that if quarantine were to be shortened to just three days, it might as well be cancelled altogether.
No more green passport
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday said that with other restrictions being eased, it was also time to cancel the “Green Passport” that vaccinated Israelis still have to show to enter public venues.
“There is no medical or epidemiological logic to the Green Passport, many experts agree,” Liberman told reporters. “There is, however, direct harm to the economy, to daily operations and a not insignificant contribution to daily panic among the public.”
Infections soar, serious cases near 500
Interestingly, Israel appears to be coming out of the Corona crisis, at least in terms of its impact on society through government restrictions, just as the daily rate of infection is higher than it’s ever been.
Israel has been registering over 50,000 new daily infections for about a week now, and the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is nearly 500.
However, those numbers confirm what health officials have been saying for months, that the Omicron variant results in less severe illness. During earlier Corona waves, Israel had over 1,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19 despite much lower rates of daily infection.