Cabinet to lift limit of 500m from home for exercise, after Independence Day

In confusing back and forth, ministers vote to cancel restriction immediately, but after Health Ministry intervention, order will only go into effect Thursday morning

A man wearing a face mask exercises in the Saker Park in Jerusalem, on March 25, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A man wearing a face mask exercises in the Saker Park in Jerusalem, on March 25, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The cabinet on Sunday approved lifting a 500-meter limitation on the distance from home that Israelis can exercise due to the coronavirus lockdown — but then clarified that the measure will only go into effect after Independence Day later this week.

There was initial confusion over the development as Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan tweeted shortly after the meeting that the limitation had been immediately removed.

Within an hour, cabinet secretary Tzahi Braverman notified ministers that in fact the easing of restrictions was on hold and would only come into effect at 8 a.m. on Thursday morning, the day after Independence Day, Channel 12 news reported.

The clarification came at the urging of Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, the report said.

Ministers then approved the new date. When it comes into effect on Thursday morning, there will be no limitations on distance for those engaged in physical activity.

Bar Siman-Tov later told Channel 12 in an interview that he understands the confusion and noted, as he has in the past, that authorities are working in a rapidly changing environment.

Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov at a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 11, 2020. (Flash90)

“Occasionally mistakes like this happen,” he said.

Erdan had tweeted that he welcomed the decision to end the 500-meter limit, noting he had already demanded the restriction be canceled in the previous two cabinet meetings on the government’s pandemic strategy. Under the current rules, Israelis are still required to remain within 100 meters from their homes, with exceptions made for purchasing supplies and exercise — a situation that Erdan, who oversees the police, admitted was unfeasible in terms of enforcement.

“Once again I say, as soon as there is no limit on going out for exercise and shopping, it is not really possible to enforce remaining within 100 meters of the home,” wrote Erdan.

Police, who have been charged with enforcing lockdown measures, have reportedly complained that as the country eases the restrictions it is becoming increasingly helpless at ensuring the public adheres to the remaining rules.

Erdan also wrote that “other restrictions in certain areas can be canceled, for which it is also possible to set specific requirements (regulations) such as gyms and bed and breakfasts across the country.”

“The most pressing matter at the moment is finding solutions that will enable the education system to return to operations,” he added.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan speaks at the 17th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group, on February 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Channel 12 reported that after Independence Day, which ends on Wednesday evening, gyms are also set to open — albeit with a requirement to track those who come and go. Bed and breakfasts will also be permitted to reopen their doors, the report said. Along with culture sites and recreation venues, the tourism industry has been shuttered for weeks under lockdown orders.

The Israeli government is also weighing the reopening of some schools next week.

But the country will be placed back under lockdown on Tuesday and Wednesday as the country marks Memorial Day and Independence Day, to prevent gatherings.

Also Sunday, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev announced the Health Ministry had approved a return to training for athletes in organized sports that are under the auspices of the country’s sporting unions and associations.

The ministry published an extensive list of sports that have been approved, while stipulating that professional athletes are required to use their own personal equipment while also maintaining a general two-meter social distancing rule.

On Friday, the government approved lifting some restrictions on businesses, as it continued to gradually reopen Israel’s economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

From midnight Saturday, stores that are not in shopping malls were allowed to operate, as long as they adhere to guidelines regarding cleanliness, the wearing of protective gear and enforcing social distancing. Hairdressers and beauty salons could also resume operations, if hygiene regulations related to the virus are adhered to.

In addition, restaurants and food shops were allowed to sell products for takeaway, not just home deliveries, on condition of a physical barrier being placed between the cashier and the customers.

However, the restriction barring the general public from traveling more than 100 meters from their homes for non-essential purposes or more than 500 meters for exercising or prayers were to remain in effect.

Additionally, the various fines for violating the guidelines were doubled.

The rules on wearing a mask have also changed with the minimum age limit raised from six to seven, and with fines of NIS 200 ($55) to now be given without an initial warning.

Culture and Sport Miri Regev arrives for a press conference in Jerusalem, April 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

The Health Ministry has reportedly defined new parameters on which to base its decisions regarding the easing or tightening of restrictions on the public and the economy, amid widespread criticism of a confused decision-making process.

According to Hebrew media reports, any of the following conditions will likely result in increased restrictions, while remaining below these thresholds will promise continued relief:

  • Over 300 new sick people per day (numbers have hovered between 200 and 300 in recent days, though they did pass 500 on Wednesday, possibly due to a backlog of tests);
  • Over 300 seriously ill patients (currently 130 are in serious condition);
  • A doubling of the national number of sick every 10 days or less (currently cases are doubling around every 20 days).

As of Sunday, 201 people have died of the virus in Israel and 99 were on ventilators, according to Health Ministry figures. There have been 15,443 cases diagnose and 6,602 have recovered from the disease.

An 11-year-old girl is among the seriously ill. The Health Ministry on Sunday recorded the smallest rise in infections in over a month.

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