Israel’s pandemic exit strategy dubbed a ‘catastrophe’ by critics

Parents, businesses say Health Ministry’s 9-stage exit plan won’t work.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel New

The government’s new nine-stage exit strategy to get Israel out from under a national coronavirus lockdown has been slammed Monday by the business and education sectors as a “catastrophe” that will bankrupt thousands of small businesses and adversely affect Israeli education.

The Health Ministry announced the plan Sunday evening that is geared at getting Israel’s economy and shuttered education system back towards a new normal over the next five months. Each of the nine stages will take two weeks, but dependent on the continuing reduction in the coronavirus infection rate.

“There are preliminary signs of success. However, we need another few days to evaluate this. The exit will also be gradual, responsible and cautious,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “We will open businesses of up to 10 people that do not receive the public and we will also open for toddlers but we will do this and other stages gradually and cautiously, with clear indicators for the transition from stage to stage.”

The plan was immediately criticized by industry, parents and the education system for being unbalanced and having no economic support for businesses that were forced to stay closed.

“It is inconceivable that the country is giving up on an entire generation,” Merom Schiff, chairman of the national parents union, told Ynet. “It is sad to see Israel has placed education at the bottom of priorities. Frontal studies should be opened in kindergartens and elementary schools in parallel with the reopening of workplaces, before the reopening of malls and resumption of flights.”

Schiff said it made no sense to keep schools closed for grades four and up, while opening shopping malls and allowing travel abroad.

On Sunday, the Association of Commercial, Fashion and Catering Chains in Israel, which represents some 400 commercial chains with about 18,000 outlets, said despite the ongoing restrictions its members intend to open their businesses in a week in any case.

The chairman of the “Restaurateurs Strong Together” group, Tomer Mor, said forcing restaurant, pub and bar owners to remain closed until the end of November would drive hundreds of them out of business.

“This is a catastrophe,” Mor said. “The end of November is basically the beginning of winter. Every day that passes is a debt that can’t be repaid and the government must understand this.”

“Restaurants must be reopened for takeaways and outdoor dining in the near future … otherwise, the 150,000 workers in this industry will continue to suffer economic damages, in addition to being unemployed for months,” Mor said.

The Israel Hotels Association slammed the decision to open travel abroad while forcing Israeli hotels to remain closed.

“The hotels that managed to stay afloat have suffered a severe blow during the second closure,” said association president Amir Haik. “There is no logical reason to allow Israelis to travel to hotels in Greece… and not to [Israeli] hotels operating according to the restrictions set and approved by the Israeli Health Ministry.”

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz admitted the government had gotten it wrong and said his own colleagues failed to listen.

If they had done the quarantine in June or early July as I suggested, we would have been a green country,” Steinitz told Kan Radio, but warned “we need to get out of the quarantine carefully, last time we opened too fast and got hit hard.”