May 10, 2020 / 12:09 PM / 20 days ago

Preschoolers return as Israel further eases coronavirus curbs

JERUSALEM, May 10 (Reuters) - Israel partly reopened nurseries and kindergartens on Sunday, increasing the number of children who have returned to daycare as part of efforts to revive the economy as coronavirus worries subside.

Israel shut down the educational system in mid-March as contagions spiked. With the new case rate levelling out, classes resumed last week for the first three and last two grades of school, freeing up parents to go back to work.

As with school pupils, preschoolers were allowed back with enhanced hygience requirements and group sizes capped - 17 for nurseries, 18 for kindergartens - to allow for social distancing.

Kindergartens are for now accommodating the overflow by admitting children on a rotating half-week basis. Nurseries, by contrast, have allowed only 70% of children back, on full-week schedules, the Labor and Welfare Ministry said.

In selecting which nursery children return, staff give priority to those from broken families or with single or working mothers, a ministry spokeswoman said. “We are trying to find creative solutions for the other 30%,” she said.

Sunday is the beginning of Israel’s working week.

Israel, with a population of about nine million, has reported 16,458 new coronavirus cases and 248 deaths. Under nationwide business closures, unemployment has hit 27%.

Officials have said that if the partial reopening of schools and return of preschoolers does not unleash uncontrollable new contagions, the rest of Israel’s educational system could be operating by the end of May.

The Education Ministry is also looking at the possibility of extending studies into the summer holiday to make up for lost time. (Writing by Dan Williams Editing by Gareth Jones)

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