As cases rise, 15 malls reopen under plan to evaluate adherence to virus rules

Reopening of shopping centers across Israel comes amid signs of rising infections; positive test rate increases to 2% as daily new cases surge above 1,000 for 2nd day in a row

People shop at the Ayalon Mall in Ramat Gan on November 20, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
People shop at the Ayalon Mall in Ramat Gan on November 20, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A number of malls reopened on Friday as part of a pilot plan approved by the high-level coronavirus cabinet, amid signs that new COVID-19 infections were back on the rise.

A total of 15 malls around the country were permitted to reopen, including nine chosen by lottery overnight and six that earlier received approval.

The Economy Ministry said the lottery winners were Big Fashion in Beit Shemesh, Center 1 in Jerusalem, Arad Mall, M Haderech in Beit Herut, Seven Stars in Herzilya, Sharonim in Hod Hasharon, CineMall in Haifa, Arena Mall in Nahariya and Mall One in Nof Hagalil.

The other six malls belong to two of Israel’s leading mall operators, the Azrieli Group and Ofer. They are in Jerusalem, Haifa, Kiryat Bialik, Ramat Gan, Petah Tikva and Beersheba.

The mall owners pushed to have the shops open by Friday to be able to offer Black Friday sales.

The closed shops at the Dizengoff Center mall during a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, October 25, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Store owners and employees will undergo special training. Essential businesses, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, will be allowed to admit more customers than nonessential ones.

Mall owners or operators who violate the guidelines will be hit with a NIS 5,000 ($1,500) fine for each infraction.

At the end of the pilot, officials will draw conclusions about the safety of mall openings and decide when, and how, malls in Israel will reopen. The criteria will be based on compliance with occupancy limits, mask-wearing and preventing gatherings from forming at the entrances to the malls and stores.

Outdoor market areas and some museums will also be allowed to reopen as part of the pilot plan.

Local shop owners protest against the ongoing closure of the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv, November 20, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Last week, some malls in Israel opened in a rebellion against lockdown rules amid widespread frustration among store owners against government policies that kept indoor malls shuttered.

Malls have been closed — except for the essential stores within them — since mid-September under lockdown rules. Street-front stores were allowed to reopen earlier this month, with a cap on the number of customers, which was raised from four to 10 on Wednesday.

The initial opening of stores drew crowds of shoppers who in many instances ignored social distancing as they waited in line to enter stores.

Senior health officials have warned repeatedly about the necessity for a possible third national lockdown in Israel to contain the coronavirus, warning against further easing of restrictions until an additional drop in infections.

Data released by the Health Ministry on Friday morning showed Israel remaining above 1,000 new daily cases in the latest indication that the spread of the virus may be re-accelerating, even as the government pushes ahead with reopening the country from its second lockdown.

Hospital team members move patients to the new coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on November 16, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The positive test rate rose to 2 percent, with 52,516 tests carried out on Thursday.

There were 1,072 new cases diagnosed on Thursday, the ministry figures released on Friday morning showed.

Five overnight fatalities took the death toll to 2,834.

The active number of coronavirus cases in the country rose to 9,575 out of a total 333,443 cases in Israel since the start of the pandemic.

Of those sick with the virus, 275 were in serious condition, with 117 patients on ventilators. There were 68 people in moderate condition.

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