Israel eases more restrictions in move to gradually reopen economy

Coronavirus infection rate continues to drop as government begins easing restrictions on the economy. More businesses and schools are expected to reopen starting next week.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Following the nationwide curfew on Israel’s Independence Day, the country began easing more restrictions on movement and business Thursday as the the coronavirus numbers continued their downward trend.

Ministry of Health statistics said only 88 new cases were reported in the past 24 hours bringing the total to 15,870 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than half of them, 8,412 Israelis, have recovered from the virus. The death toll rose by four to 219, but the number of people hospitalized with coronavirus dropped to 340, with 117 of them in serious condition including 85 on ventilators.

The condition of an 11-year-old girl who had been in critical condition in Haifa’s Rambam Hospital continued to improve, while a 16-year-old boy remained in serious but stable condition in that hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit.

The government is meeting to decide on broader steps to reopen major sections of the economy and get students back in schools starting next week, but some easing on movement restrictions went into effect Thursday.

The country was under a nationwide curfew Wednesday to prevent millions of citizens from congregating for traditional Independence Day celebrations. Israelis can now go running and jogging freely following the removal of limits restricting exercise to within 500 meters of homes.

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However, the ban on going more than 100 meters from homes except for essential activities remains in effect and is expected to be removed next week.

Beaches, open-air markets, shopping malls and other venues remain closed with the government working out the rules before they announce new easing of the restrictions that have helped Israel preserve one of the lowest per capita death rates to coronavirus.

Those rule changes include limited opening of beaches and cinemas while maintaining social distancing and allowing hotels and bed-and-breakfasts to operate their ground floors only. Open-air markets are expected to start up but with only half the stalls open at any one time and limits on the number of shoppers. Their temperatures checked first and they must wear a face mask.

If the downward trend in infections continues, the health and education ministries are expected to give a green light to gradually restart schools beginning on Sunday.

The government is expected to make a decision Sunday on the opening of shopping malls, with the health ministry pushing for a smartphone app connected to the health ministry database of those known to be infected, Ynet reported. The app would track and identify if a coronavirus patient enters a mall and alert those in proximity to immediately go into isolation, but justice ministry officials say there are privacy issues involved.

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Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is expected to lead discussions on formulating a general plan for opening the entire economy, which will include clear benchmarks for opening all sectors.

Government officials want to give a roadmap for opening all sectors of the economy. The goal is to give those industries that will need to comply with future restrictions time to prepare, including the tourism industry, professional sports, theaters, restaurants, airlines, concerts and conferences.

Also on Thursday the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee approved a five-day extension for the continued use of electronic surveillance by Israel’s Shabak national security agency to track those infected by coronavirus carriers. Earlier this week the Supreme Court ordered the tracking to stop unless legislation was passed to enable the surveillance, normally used to track terror suspects. The tracking has been conducted under emergency regulations without the prerequisite judicial or parliamentary oversight.

Next week the government is expected to decide on passing legislation to legalize digital tracking, or stop its use. Tracking was temporarily extended until Tuesday in Knesset committee.