Israel opened schools on Wednesday despite rising coronavirus cases, banking on mass testing and vaccinations to stave off outbreaks in classrooms.
On Monday Israel registered nearly 11,000 cases among its population of nine million, the highest daily figure of the pandemic.
After weeks of debate, the government decided to forge ahead with in-person classes and has introduced rapid tests in recent days in order to detect coronavirus infections among pupils.
“We will continue to make super-efforts so that all Israeli pupils can learn," Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at a school in the southern Negev desert. "We cannot guarantee the result, but we can guarantee 100 per cent effort.”
At one central Jerusalem school, pupils cheered and chanted as they welcomed younger children at the gates.
“The start of the year brings hope, promise,” said Chaya Howitt, head of the English department at Jerusalem’s School for the Arts.
Masks are mandatory indoors and the majority of pupils were complying, while other measures at the school include pupils eating outdoors only.
Mrs Howitt was hopeful that the classrooms will remain open, "because despite the numbers at the moment, the fact is that we do see good results with these Covid vaccines”.
About 89 per cent of high school students and 76 per cent of middle school pupils have been vaccinated, the school's management said, a higher rate than across the country.
Nearly 70 per cent of teenagers between 16 and 19 nationwide have received two vaccine doses, compared with 31 per cent of children aged 12 to 15, health ministry figures show.
As a further measure to detect immunity among pupils, Israel’s emergency services and military have been involved in carrying out serological tests ahead of schools reopening.
Children aged three to 12 who are found to have antibodies against coronavirus will be exempt from quarantine if one of their classmates is infected.
When the scheme was launched last month, there were complaints of long queues and problems with the computer system.
Shifka Seigel, a parent in Jerusalem, said she waited for hours to have her nine-year-old son tested only for the results to be lost.
“It’s a pretty aggravating experience,” she said. “I think it was because… [it] is a very new programme to all the parents, that it became such a mess.”
Despite such problems, Mrs Seigel and other parents have been supportive of the decision to return to in-person learning.
Mario Bendezu, who was able to get his six-year-old son tested easily, said the start of the pandemic was “like hell” with his children forced to stay at home.
“My wife and I, we feel comfortable sending them to school. And also because I had corona so I’m not afraid,” said Mr Bendezu, whose son tested positive for antibodies.
The family is abiding by the coronavirus regulations and Mr Bendezu expects his children to remain cautious.
“But we want to live our lives as normal as we can,” he said. “I don’t want them to grow up in fear.”