2-month phased rollback of lockdown pushed by National Security Council – report

According to recommendations from government’s central coordinating body, limitations on industry and tech sector will be loosened first as schools see gradual return of students

The empty Ayalon highway near the entrance to Tel Aviv's usually buzzing business district, April 8, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
The empty Ayalon highway near the entrance to Tel Aviv's usually buzzing business district, April 8, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

During last week’s announcement of new limitations to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that if recent trends showing a stabilization of Israeli infection rates and seriously ill cases continue, “we’ll begin to gradually exit from the lockdown after Passover.”

With the festival ending on Wednesday, the National Security Council — the central government body coordinating the response to the virus crisis — has reportedly completed its recommendations for how to return Israel to a form of normalcy, and will present them to the government for authorization this week.

The recommendations come after numerous ministries and various public institutions, including a special NSC taskforce, presented their own suggestions to the Council.

According to a report in the Haaretz daily Monday, the NSC will recommend easing lockdown measures in four stages over two months, allowing for two weeks between each stage to assess whether the virus is seeing a resurgence or not.

A Border Policeman inspects the papers of a a driver at an exit of the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak on April 3, 2020 (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

In the first stage, according to the report, fields representing a “significant economic contribution,” including manufacturing and tech companies, would be allowed to reopen fully with some 1 million employees permitted to return to work. The public sector would be allowed to work at 50% capacity.

Both private and public sector workers, however, would be subject to strict social distancing and hygiene rules such as an obligation to wear masks and gloves as well as testing temperatures before entering the workplace, the report added.

At the same time, during the first stage, some limited educational frameworks would be allowed to restart, such as special education and preschool networks, the NSC will reportedly recommend. Small class groups for students facing matriculation exams are also being considered, the report said.

In order to facilitate such a return both to work and to school, public transportation, which is currently running under a severely limited framework, would be increased.

In stage two, which would take place two weeks later, the NSC will reportedly recommend returning the vast majority of the private and public sector to work, including most stores that have been shuttered in the past month.

At that stage, students in grades 1-4 would be allowed back to elementary schools, the report said, potentially allowing all parents to return to their places of work without having to stay home to look after young children.

In stage three, the remaining school students would be allowed to return and cafes, restaurants and hotels would be reopened. Various limitations would still remain in place, however, such as limitations on large gatherings including at schools, the report said.

A closed school in the northern Israeli city of Safed, March 13, 2020 (David Cohen/Flash90)

Finally, in stage four, which would be rolled out some two months after Passover and only when there is “total control” over the spread of the virus, according to the reported recommendations, public places of major gatherings such as malls, cinemas and sport centers would be opened.

To prevent the virus spreading, Israelis have been ordered to stay at home, only venturing out for basic needs or to attend work that is considered essential. The past week saw a nearly four-day lockdown on all Israeli communities due to Passover, in which the populace was confined to their hometowns between Tuesday evening and Friday morning.

Health officials had reportedly pushed for the nationwide lockdown to be extended until the end of Passover on April 15, but were shot down by the Finance Ministry, which has warned of lasting damage to the nation’s economy if the longer restrictions remain in place.

As a result of the limitations, the national unemployment rate has soared to 25.8 percent, amounting to 1,075,271 people, according to the Israel National Employment Service. At the beginning of March, when social distancing orders impacting places of work were first issued, the rate was under 4%.

The Health Ministry on Monday morning updated Israel’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases to 11,235, including 181 in serious condition and 133 people on ventilators.

Another 168 people were in moderate condition, the ministry said, adding that the rest were displaying mild symptoms and 1,689 had recovered.

The death toll stood at 110.

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