The decision to tighten the so-called ‘Green Pass’ restrictions on the education, health and social-welfare sectors was made during a high-level coronavirus cabinet meeting which concluded late on Monday.
It means that teachers, doctors, nurses and caregivers would only be able to do their jobs if they present documents proving that they have been vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID-19. Failing that, a negative PCR test taken within the previous 72 hours would be required.
However, the penalty faced by workers who flout the new rules still remains unclear.
The Justice and Education Ministries earlier warned that they could be put on unpaid leave.
But the Teachers Association threatened to go to the High Court if its members are left without salaries, adding that they would only cooperate if the same regulations are applied to the country’s entire public sector.
The teachers are also unhappy about the idea of paying out of pocket for their own Covid-19 tests, an idea that is being pushed forward by the Education Ministry.As of last week, there were some 37,000 unvaccinated teachers and school staff in Israel, according to government estimates.
Israel has carried out one of the world’s largest inoculation campaigns per capita, fully vaccinating around 63% of its 9.3 million people and already giving a third booster shot to two million.
There was much debate and tension preceding the decision to open schools on September 1 amid a surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the more-contagious Delta variant. On Monday, Israel surpassed 7,000 coronavirus-related deaths, with 6,662 new infections reported and 738 patients remaining in serious condition.
Some in the government, including Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash, suggested that the school year should be postponed due to the poor epidemiological situation.
Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton initially opposed the plan for students to get vaccine shots between classes and, after eventually agreeing to it, faced death threats online. Over the weekend, the minister’s security was beefed up due to those messages.
Shasha-Biton had also reportedly warned Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that there won’t be enough teachers to replace their unvaccinated colleagues if the ‘Green Pass’ system is introduced, but the PM told her to find a way to deal with the problem.