Truth & justice

Israel begins easing lockdown, allowing stores to reopen and communal prayer

Israel's Maccabi Healthcare services (HMO) install a covid-19 testing booth which enables medical workers to collect swab samples from individuals in the coastal city of Tel-Aviv, on April 16, 2020. (
Israel’s Maccabi Healthcare services (HMO) install a covid-19 testing booth which enables medical workers to collect swab samples from individuals in the coastal city of Tel-Aviv, on April 16, 2020. ( (Jack Guez/Afp Via Getty Images)

JERUSALEM — The Israeli government on Sunday approved a series of measures cautiously relaxing a three-week countrywide lockdown, enabling businesses, including certain stores, to reopen within strict guidelines and approving communal Jewish prayers of up to 19 people spaced two meters apart.

As part of its strategy aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, the new measures also included a $50 fine for those not wearing a face mask in public areas.

Israel, which has instituted some of the harshest restrictions on public movement, reported some 13,362 cases, with 171 deaths on Sunday. Its numbers are still rising, but at a slower pace than previously.

“The per capita mortality rate in Israel is among the lowest in the OECD,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a televised speech Saturday night.

He said that the positive data in Israel was due to the tight restrictions and that the results now allowed “steps in the opposite direction — not tightening, but easing in a responsible and gradual manner.”

But, Netanyahu warned, that if the number of corona cases began to increase rapidly again, the restrictions would return.

Among the new regulations, certain businesses will be able to open on the condition they appoint a supervisor to ensure that a long list of guidelines.

Stores, including those selling electrical and household goods, books, office supplies, sporting and hobby equipment, will be permitted to open but customers will be limited inside temperatures tested at the entrance.

Communal Jewish prayer of up to 19 people will be permitted, local media reported that it was in response to complaints that public protests have been allowed to continue throughout the crisis.

However, the government kept in place tight restrictions on outdoor exercise, widening only slightly sporting activities from 100 to 500 meters outside the house. Schools will remain closed for the foreseeable future, with the Education Ministry implementing a virtual learning program.

By Ruth Eglash

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