Some schools to open as Israeli infection count nears 15,000; Billions approved for small businesses

Mayors are calling for primary schools to reopen in May and the government announced a new $2.3 billion aid package for small businesses.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s coronavirus situation appeared to be stable on Friday as the health ministry announced 290 people had been tested positive in the past 24 hours, bringing Israel’s total number of infections to 14,882.

Ministry of Health statistics showed 421 people were hospitalized with coronavirus symptoms, 139 of them in serious condition; 107 people were breathing with the help of ventilators.

The numbers show a continued drop in hospitalizations from a high of 783 last week, while the number of those seriously ill has stabilized. Since Thursday, two more patients died of virus complications, bringing Israel’s death toll to 193.

Compared to other countries, Israel appears to be doing well. The death toll in Holland, with twice the population of Israel, reached 3,751 on Thursday, almost 20 times the number of victims in Israel.

The government on Friday announced the lifting of more restrictions on businesses. As of Saturday evening, stores on streets and hair salons will be allowed to open, but most enforce social distancing and hygiene. Shopping malls will remain closed.

Previously restricted to home deliveries only, restaurants and food shops will be able to open for take-out, providing they install a physical barrier between the cashier and the customers.

Despite the loosening of business restrictions, Israelis are still required to stay within 100 meters from their homes unless shopping for food and medicine, or going for an essential task or to work. However, people can exercise in pairs up to 500 meters from their residence and can travel the same distance for prayers, which must be held outdoors with a maximum of 19 participants keeping two meters apart.

With the government slowly re-opening some sections of the economy, pressure mounted for the return of children to school. Some special education classes resumed this week, limited to three students per class at a time, but mayors called for the education ministry to open up primary schools in May.

“If anyone thinks he can continue this bluff of ‘we are bringing the economy back, but education is currently staying at home’ then it is a bitter mistake, because both things go together in stages,” Modi’in Mayor Haim Bibas told Ynet.

The ministry ordered management and administration teams back to schools to prepare them for reopening, but Bibas, who heads the national association of municipal councils, called for at least kindergartens and grades 1-3 to reopen by May 3.

Also on Friday, the government approved an 8 billion shekel ($2.3 billion) aid package for small business owners who have been hit hard by the pandemic closures.

The financial assistance includes grants of up to 400,000 shekels  ($114,00) per business and a maximum of 10,500 shekels ($3000) for self-employed workers.

“Today, we have approved further steps in the government for the benefit of independents and small business owners,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted. “We will implement additional economic measures and continue to take care of all Israeli citizens. Let’s get it together and win!”

Hundreds of people protested in Tel Aviv against the unity government that Netanyahu is forming with opposition Blue and White leader Benny Gantz that will have a record number of cabinet portfolios. Demonstrators from the Movement for Quality Government in Israel slammed Netanyahu for wasting money when the country was in the throes of its worst economic crisis.

“We are in an unbearable crisis. While millions of adults are in their homes, the elderly are not receiving proper care, over a million unemployed, and the self-employed are closing their businesses – a government is about to form with 36 ministers … Israel is collapsing morally,”  said Amir Haskel, a retired army general speaking at the protest.