Education and Health Ministries Clash over Antigen Tests at School

On Wednesday, the Health Ministry announced that rapid antigen COVID tests would be administered at elementary schools throughout the country. However, principals were instructed on Thursday morning to not implement the plan, an order issued by the Education Ministry. According to the officials of the Education Ministry, the move hadn’t been coordinated with them by the Health Ministry. The school district superintendents received a letter, which said that there had been no coordination with the Education Ministry about the matter and a formal legal procedure hadn’t been prepared before time, something which is needed for implementation. 

The letter said that the Health Ministry had to coordinate it with the Education Ministry before making the decision public. It said that they always ask the ministry for written instructions, along with briefings at all levels because this requires additional coordination with the Health Ministry. District officials were told by the Education Ministry that until the ministries reach an agreement, school principals shouldn’t administer antigen tests on the school grounds. Yifat Shasha-Biton, the Education Minister stated in a statement that she is in full support of conducting antigen tests in schools. However, she said that the problem had been about making the announcement without prior notice. 

The minister also added that they expected the rollout to happen next week. The comments of the Education Ministry were rejected by the Health Ministry and declared as ‘defamation’. The statement from the Health Ministry said that the ministries of education and health had reached an agreement last night to postpone conducting the antigen tests for a short span of time for ensuring complete and optimal preparation in all elementary schools across the country. The statement added that the two ministries had decided to get to work immediately for coming up with relevant procedures. The Health Ministry said that it would not engage in defamation, as they were completely devoted to dealing with the wave of infection.

The statement said that only with genuine and since cooperation and hard work they could ensure the move was implemented from the start of the next week. Later in the day, a joint statement was made by the two ministries. Nachman Ash, the Director-General of the Health Ministry and Dalit Stauber, the head of the Education Ministry, both agreed to cooperate for ensuring the health of Israeli children. The Education Minister, Shasha-Biton has been very outspoken in criticizing the government’s approach to COVID-19. Initially, she had resisted vaccination of students on school grounds, but had walked back on her opposition.

In the last few months, she has also received a lot of threats and had gained prominence as an outspoken and vocal member of the coronavirus cabinet who had fought against a number of restrictions in the previous government. She has been attacked multiple times in the press anonymous and has also clashed with Nitzan Horowitz, the Health Minister, about the restrictions imposed in schools. The Health Ministry said on Wednesday that 3,200 staffers would conduct rapid antigen tests on teachers and students exposed to anyone with the coronavirus. 

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