Israeli restaurants to reopen May 27 as detailed plan materializes

Health Ministry decides to allow restaurants, wedding halls to return to operation on May 27 with some reduced social distancing requirements and some limitations on capacity.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Facing industry pressure and with the coronavirus infection rate remaining low, the Health Ministry decided Wednesday to authorize the reopening of restaurants and event halls.

Health statistics released Wednesday morning showed Israel’s coronavirus curve has flattened and there were only seven new infections reported overnight out of almost 5,000 tests performed. As the number of those hospitalized with the virus continued to drop, health officials said restaurants can resume seating customers starting on May 27, but with some restrictions, Israel Hayom reported.

Under the agreement reached after weeks of negotiations between the Health and Finance ministries with the National Restaurant and Bar Owners Association, eating establishments, bars and clubs will be limited to 100 customers and larger businesses will only be allowed to accommodate 85 percent of their capacity.

While customers will need to have their temperatures checked, seating at outdoor venues will be allowed with a one meter distance between customers instead of the mandatory two-meter (6 foot) social distancing requirement.

“I think it is an agreement that maintains our clients’ health,” restaurant association director Shai Berman said.

“The agreement has all kinds of health conditions that need to be met but they are important to us so that our customers feel safe to spend with us and it allows business owners to open according to a reasonable economic model.”

Berman said the association would be providing training for the new guidelines for disinfection and the strict hygiene of staff and cooks. “We have a great interest that our customers feel safe… we will make sure to get this message across to all businesses about hygiene and cleanliness.”

Restaurant owner Yaki Kabir called the arrangements “near-feasible,” saying he was glad for the openings, but afraid to open his doors if it meant that the government will forget about its plan for compensation to cover financial losses over the past months when restaurants were forced to close.

“Our power to survive is shaky,” Kabir said, adding not only has he lost hundreds of thousands of shekels, but said a black cloud hung over his head from lawyers for landlords. “I hope we get the compensation soon. What scares me is one wrong decision by a district court judge in favor of property owners and we will all go bankrupt.

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Fellow restaurateur Yariv Malili criticized the ministry decision, saying letting owners only partially open would only continue the problem. Malili said many restaurants make their profit after seven in the evening during what he termed “manic time” and the rest of the time still have to pay the bills despite losing money.

“Now we are told that during manic time we can only have 85 percent of the customers,” Malili said. “Why don’t we pay 85 percent of the taxes? These are decisions that are not in our favor.”