As infections drop, Israel to begin easing lockdown on Sunday

First of 9-stage reopening will see some small businesses, kindergartens, beaches allowed to open.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

With coronavirus infection levels dropping, Israel’s government decided to begin easing some of the lockdown restrictions beginning on Sunday.

The coronavirus cabinet voted Thursday to allow small businesses to reopen, but without letting customers inside. Restaurants may provide takeout food only, and kindergartens, public beaches and national parks will reopen.

The ministers also agreed to end the travel restriction that kept Israelis to within one one kilometer from home and are allowing visits so long as the gatherings are restricted to 10 people indoors and 20 outdoors. As well, the Western Wall plaza and Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem will reopen under restricted conditions.

The nine-stage reopening plan was announced earlier this week and will run through to February, with additional lifting of restrictions every two weeks only if the infection rates continue to drop.

However, cities that still have high infection rates, classified as “red” cities, will remain with the tight lockdown restrictions until the numbers drop sufficiently.

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Although the daily cases have been dropping under the lockdown, the head of the national coronavirus task force, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, said his optimism was tempered by the fact that the rate of infection must continue to drop for at least one week before additional restrictions can be lifted.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein also cautioned that the multi-stage exit from the nationwide lockdown “won’t be short” and a resurgence would put a halt to the process.

“We have to do everything to make the exit gradual,” Edelstein said. “We understand the economic difficulties, so from Sunday businesses that operate without interaction with the public will reopen.”

“It could happen that during the exit from the lockdown, which will not be short, there will be situations in which we will have to stop.”

Edelstein called on the public not to ease up now that some restrictions are lifted, saying it “does not mean that it is now permitted to gather and go anywhere you want. Gatherings are the most dangerous.”

So far, the lockdown has shown success, lowering daily infections from a record high of 9,000 in September to under 2,000, with the Health Ministry reporting Friday morning on 1,608 new cases in the previous day out of 37,487 people tested.

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Of the 1,245 Israelis currently hospitalized with coronavirus, 716 are listed in serious condition – a drop from a peak of 890 on October 4, when 244 of those in serious condition connected to ventilators.

The death toll hit 2,139, having doubled in only the past five weeks.