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Cabinet set to further ease COVID-19 restrictions amid rising public frustration

Reopened IKEA draws crowds, lottery booths given permission to resume activities; with still-shuttered businesses fuming, cabinet to rethink on Thursday

Customers try maintain a safe distance from each other as they wait in line to enter an IKEA outlet in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya on April 22, 2020, after authorities eased down some of the measures that have been in place during the novel conronavirus pandemic crisis. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Customers try maintain a safe distance from each other as they wait in line to enter an IKEA outlet in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya on April 22, 2020, after authorities eased down some of the measures that have been in place during the novel conronavirus pandemic crisis. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The government is to weigh an additional, previously unplanned easing of coronavirus restrictions on Thursday amid public confusion and anger over the decision-making process on which businesses can and cannot currently open.

Anger rose Wednesday as IKEA reopened its furniture stores in accordance with government rules, drawing in large crowds, while many other shops remained shuttered. Israelis flocked to the company’s three open branches, in Rishon Lezion, Netanya and the Tel Aviv port, leading to long lines of people needing their ready-to-assemble furniture fix.

Lottery booths throughout the country also reopened, Channel 12 reported, with the Finance Ministry saying they met the standards.

Critics pointed to the matter as a symbol of the government’s seemingly inconsistent regulations and attitudes toward different businesses.

A customer stands in front of a body temperature screening device before entering an IKEA outlet in the coastal town of Netanya on April 22, 2020, after authorities eased down some of the measures that have been in place during the conronavirus pandemic crisis. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Abir Kara, head of a large Facebook group of independent business owners, told the network the moves signified decision-makers’ “failed management” of the economy.

“Bringing back a lottery booth means you can also bring back a falafel stand, or any other stand, that meets appropriate regulations,” he said.

The government has faced pressure to accelerate reopening the economy, though officials have expressed fears that the virus could easily rebound and warned that tighter restrictions could yet be put back in place.

Small business owners have been pushing for the government to allow them to re-open, citing weeks of lost income.

People waiting in line outside Rami Levy supermarket in Jerusalem on April 7, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Tali Friedman, who represents stall owners at Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda open air market, told Ynet that stores will re-open on Sunday whether they are allowed to or not.

“It’s ridiculous that places that are not essential like IKEA are opening and have long lines out the doors, and the market sellers are left to suffer,” she said.

Ministers also pointed to IKEA’s opening as a sign of hypocrisy during government discussions earlier in the day on allowing more stores to open.

“It cannot be that IKEA’s is open while schools remain close,” Education Minister Rafi Peretz told Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, according to Ynet.

Speaking to Channel 12 news, Bar Siman-Tov said: “We are aware that we should have made some decisions more logically, but we will fix it.”

He said the government will decide on the next rollback measures on Thursday.

Channel 12 news reported that hairdressers, beauticians, clothing stores and some others could be among those next given a green light to open.

According to the latest guidelines, workplaces in the industry, production and services sectors are allowed to have 30 percent of their employees come to work, or 10 workers at the same time at the same workplace — whichever is higher.

Meanwhile certain types of shops — including those selling electrical goods, household goods, opticians and others — are allowed to open under certain restrictions, including taking body temperatures upon entry, delineating a two-meter distance between customers at cash registers, erecting a physical barrier between buyer and seller and frequent disinfecting.

Shopping malls, markets, restaurants, toy shops, beauty and hair salons and clothing stores remain closed at this time.

The cabinet on Wednesday voted in favor of severely limiting commemorations and celebrations of Israel’s independence and memorial days and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in the latest bid to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Over Ramadan, which begins Thursday evening, all stores in towns with majority Muslim populations, aside from pharmacies, will be closed to the public from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. to discourage people from congregating during the holy month in which Muslims traditionally fast during the day and enjoy joint meals at night (though stores will be able to operate deliveries during those hours).

On Memorial Day, which begins Monday night and ends Tuesday evening, people will be barred from visiting military cemeteries and memorial sites. Intercity travel will be prohibited with the exception of people going to work and shopping in permitted stores. On Independence Day, which begins Tuesday evening and ends Wednesday evening, a general curfew will be in effect requiring people to remain within 100 meters of their homes — except for medicinal needs — and banning intercity travel, similar to the curfew earlier this month for Passover. Supermarkets will not be open to the public.

The Independence Day curfew will begin at 5 p.m. on April 28 and end at 8 p.m. the next day.

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