Israel eases some coronavirus restrictions as infections rise

Outdoor shopping centers opened, grades 5 and 6 back to school, but statistics show infections are rising.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Outdoor shopping centers in Israel reopened for the first time in over two months Tuesday as the government eased some coronavirus restrictions, even as infections in the last day rose.

On Monday night, the Corona Cabinet decided to ease some restrictions from the lockdown imposed in September, allowing stores at outdoor shopping centers to open, but with only four customers allowed in at a time, and sending children in grades 5 and 6 back to school.

Grades 7-12, indoor shopping malls and entertainment venues remain closed, although grades 11 and 12 may return to class next week if the infection rate drops.

However, Health Ministry Statistics released Tuesday morning showed 861 new coronavirus cases in the past day, the highest number since October 23.

Of the 563 Israelis hospitalized with coronavirus, 313 are listed in serious condition and 124 of those are connected to ventilators. Since the beginning of the pandemic 2,736 Israelis have succumbed to the virus.

In a statement Monday night, the Cabinet warned that “should morbidity significantly increase, measures to ease restrictions will be rescinded.”

The openings Tuesday included “green islands” for tourism in the southern resort city of Eilat and in the hotel area of the Dead Sea, in a bid to get thousands of workers in the paralyzed tourism sector back to work.

“This is great news for the residents of Eilat, but also for each and every one of the citizens of Israel. It will finally be possible to go on vacation in Israel,” said Health Minister Yuli Edelstein during a visit to the city.

However, Edelstein warned it was not open season on traveling to a hotel, telling anybody who wanted to go on vacation to get a coronavirus test first.

“I ask the public not to come here without a negative corona test. Not only those who travel to a hotel, anyone who wants to enter the city and has no exemption should come with a valid corona check,” Edelstein said. “We need to make sure that everyone who enters Eilat does not bring the coronavirus with them.”

The cabinet also voted to increase fines for large gatherings of any kind in a bid to cut down on large weddings that were still being held despite rules limiting gatherings to a maximum of 10 people indoors and 20 outdoors. Police have been working daily to shut down weddings, known to be a major source of infection.

Although large lineups were reported at stores in outdoor commercial centers, owners of kiosks at Tel Aviv’s outdoor Carmel market, which was prohibited from opening, were angered that nearby stores were allowed to open. Police and city inspectors were handing out 5,000 shekel ($1700) fines to owners of market stalls who chose to open for business.

Vegetable stand owner Nassan Bachar accused the government of discrimination in closing the Carmel market stores.

“I will not pay the money and will appeal to the court,” Bachar told Ynet. “I had no choice. We have to make a living because the money is running out.”

“I have 10 employees, one of them has no money for rent,” Bachar said. “Why is the Bezalel market, which is 50 meters from here, open and I am not and still have to pay NIS 13,000 in property taxes on my stall?”