Israel to implement 4-stage reopening of economy

Details of a multistage reopening of Israel’s economy is being finalized that will define a new routine to keep the coronavirus at bay.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s government is discussing significant steps for a graduated return of the economy to near full activity.

At the top of the list is a lifting of the ban on going more than 100 meters from one’s home except for food, medicine or work and the opening of parks and other public places.

“Starting off this week with some good news. There are less than 50 new daily Covid-19 infections in Israel at the moment,” tweeted Ofir Gendelman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman for Arab affairs.

“Some hospitals even closed their coronavirus wards. Let’s hope this trend continues in Israel and around the world as well.”

With the infection rate under control and the number or those hospitalized and in serious condition dropping almost daily, the finance ministry is pressuring health officials to ease restrictions and get people back to work.

Also on the agenda is the reopening of shopping malls and a limited opening of hotels and bed and breakfasts. Cabinet ministers will discuss easing restrictions on the number of people who can attend family events and allowing people aged 67 and above who are healthy to return to work.

A health ministry official said  that Netanyahu is expected to participate in an online conference of world leaders on Monday to discuss the pandemic.

Police said they would continue to enforce health regulations and hand out fines to businesses that opened without permission and to people outdoors not wearing protective face masks.

Television news reports over the weekend showed throngs of people in streets and parks, many of them without masks and congregating together without social distancing.

Health officials said people had to understand that the easing of restrictions did not mean a “return to normal,” but that the new normal was dependent on Israelis constantly maintaining social distancing rules and hygiene.

In the first phase of a four-stage process to opening the economy starting May 17, the finance ministry wants indoor shopping malls and major markets to reopen and will return tens of thousands of Palestinian workers to jobs in Israel.

Universities and colleges will be able to return to limited study, and national parks will reopen their gates to the public. As well, some hotels, gyms and health studios, swimming pools, libraries, museums and cultural institutions will be opened.

The health ministry is also recommending opening beaches for surfing and bathing and is expected to recommend an end to the ban on visits with second-degree relatives, including grandparents.

However, the ministry is still objecting to the reopening of gyms and some other venues it feels are problematic for potentially spreading the virus.

Israel’s professional soccer and basketball leagues will be able to resume their seasons, but without fans. Community centers will be able to resume activities, and students in Grades 4-6 will return to schools.

The next phase of the program starts May 31 and will include opening of restaurants , cinemas, theaters, event halls, bars, as well as classes for grades 7-10, with all places limited to 50 to 100 people and with social distancing.

On Sunday, students in grades 1-3 and 11-12 returned to classes but with some confusion as class sizes were limited and school buses were not yet operating. A number of municipalities delayed opening altogether.