Dr Mike Evans

Israel requires COVID testing for all children returning to school after Hanukkah

Israel’s cabinet approved a plan to require at-home COVID-19 testing of all school children from preschool through sixth grade as a requirement for returning to school yesterday following the Hanukkah holiday.

The testing, involving approximately two million children, was announced Sunday. “According to the emergency ordinance, pupils in kindergartens and grades 1 to 6 which had a break for Hanukkah, as well as schools that enjoy an exemption under the Compulsory Education Law (such as ultra-Orthodox institutions), will be required to present declarations signed by their parents attesting to the carrying out of an antigen test with negative results as a condition for entering school,” the cabinet said.

Parents administering the at-home test had to complete a statement noting the child tested negative before returning to school. The widespread testing is part of Israel’s response to the recently discovered Omicron variant, first noted in South Africa. The variant is considered highly transmittable and has already been reported in numerous countries, including Israel.

Last week, seven local confirmed cases of the Omicron variant were reported, with additional suspected cases. As of Monday, 21 cases had been confirmed. Israel was the first nation to shut down international travel in response to the variant.

Two of the cases involved Israeli doctors, one of whom had returned from a recent conference in London, according to Reuters. The doctors had been vaccinated and had received a booster shot prior to the breakthrough cases. It is believed the traveling doctor likely infected the other doctor.

Israeli researchers are currently testing current COVID-19 vaccines against the new Omicron variant to help determine the level of effectiveness. Experts hope for initial results within a few days.

The new Omicron variant has led to widespread travel restrictions and changes in other nations as well. In the US, international travelers must now provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours of a flight, regardless of vaccination status, including Americans.