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City inspectors clear out IKEA customers as stores defy restrictions and reopen

Rishon Lezion municipal inspectors fine local branch of Swedish furniture chain, reportedly threaten to return every 90 minutes to dish out further penalties until it closes

Israelis shop at IKEA after the Swedish furniture chain reopen in defiance of the Health Ministry, on December 6, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Israelis shop at IKEA after the Swedish furniture chain reopen in defiance of the Health Ministry, on December 6, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Municipal inspectors in Rishon Lezion fined IKEA on Sunday after the Swedish furniture chain opened its local branches in defiance of coronavirus restrictions.

After fining IKEA NIS 5,000, the inspectors threatened to return every 90 minutes to issue further fines, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

The inspectors also told customers they were in the store illegally and warned of enforcement action, then cleared them from the premises.

IKEA announced in the morning its stores would reopen in a “limited format” and adhere to health guidelines, despite being barred from doing so.

“The directives of the Health Ministry haven’t changed and no approval was given by the ministry to open. The matter will be transferred for police enforcement,” an unnamed ministry official told the Walla news site.

Shoppers at the IKEA in Netanya told the news site they were unaware the store had opened without permission.

IKEA had declared its intention to reopen last month, but pushed off the move following threats of fines from the Health Ministry and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana’s warning that police would shutter any branch that opened.

While lockdown measures bar most malls and shopping centers from opening, IKEA has argued it is an essential business because it sells home maintenance products and is therefore allowed to reopen.

The Health Ministry rejects that argument, saying IKEA’s primary business is selling furniture and not home maintenance.

During the initial lockdown in the spring, IKEA was allowed to reopen while most stores remained closed, fueling anger from small business owners.

IKEA’s decision to reopen Sunday came amid a steady rise in new coronavirus infections, as the country rolls back restrictions imposed in mid-September as part of a second national lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.

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