Netanyahu ‘gradually’ rolls back corona restrictions; death toll rises to 165

“Corona won’t defeat us,” said the prime minister on Saturday evening, “gradually” easing Israel’s COVID-19 restrictions on commerce and gatherings.

By Ebin Sandler, World Israel News

On Saturday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the nation, announcing a plan to lift certain restrictions intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Over the course of Saturday, 14 Israelis succumbed to coronavirus, bringing the death toll in Israel to 165.

Specifically, Netanyahu announced a 10-point plan to relax nationwide restrictions on businesses, stores and gatherings for sports and prayer.

In addition to introducing a “purple badge” safety certification process for businesses that seek to reopen, Netanyahu also increased the percentage of employees permitted at workplaces from 15 to 30 percent and announced certain types of freestanding stores will be permitted to reopen, including those that sell appliances, household goods, and eye glasses, among others. Malls and open-air markets will remain closed.

Under the new regulations, Israelis will be able to participate in sports in pairs and pray in outdoor services in groups of up to 10, provided worshipers maintain distances of at least two meters (six feet).

The Cabinet will vote on the measures on Saturday night and is expected to approve the steps. It appears that the new rules will take effect either Sunday or Monday.

Netanyahu lauded Israel for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, comparing its statistics to those of countries hit far harder by the deadly virus.

“I’m working day and night, around the clock,” said Netanyahu, who later thanked the IDF, the police, and Israel’s “amazing youth” for their roles in fighting the “coronavirus war.”

Netanyahu also referenced attempts to form a unity government with his political rival Benny Gantz, in addition to making an appeal to those who observe Ramadan to limit gatherings to immediate family.

During the Saturday evening address, Netanyahu was joined by Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov who echoed the prime minister’s comments that Israel is “in a better position than most countries.”

Siman-Tov also requested that Israelis over the age of 67 not return to work, reiterating Netanyahu’s comments about protecting senior citizens and the facilities in which they live.

Siman-Tov added that Israelis must continue to observe social distancing requirements and wash hands regularly, in addition to other necessary precautions such as wearing face masks in public places.

Both Netanyahu and Siman-Tov warned that Israelis would see a return to stricter restrictions if the rate of infection spikes or workplaces refuse to adhere to the new regulations.

As of Saturday evening, there were over 13,200 cases of coronavirus in Israel, with 165 deaths.

Prior to Passover, Israel instituted a nationwide curfew on the first night of the holiday and a travel ban that prevented gatherings of people who did not currently reside in the same dwelling. This left a significant number of Israelis spending the Passover seder by themselves on a night that is traditionally a time for large family gatherings.

A similar curfew and travel ban was announced for the final day of the holiday, beginning last Tuesday at 5 p.m. and ending on Thursday at 5 a.m.