Doctor’s orders: New virus regulations turn up the heat on Tel Aviv restaurants
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Reporter's notebook

Doctor’s orders: New virus regulations turn up the heat on Tel Aviv restaurants

Owners take opposing views on government measures banning people from sitting in their establishments; despite restrictions, people out and about in the city

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

  • Iconic Carmel Market in Tel Aviv on March 15, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)
    Iconic Carmel Market in Tel Aviv on March 15, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)
  • Long lines at supermarket in central Tel Aviv on March 15, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)
    Long lines at supermarket in central Tel Aviv on March 15, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)
  • Ofir Manshari, a 39-year-old pasta restaurant owner, standing behind the coutner at Fabrizio in central Tel Aviv on March 15, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)
    Ofir Manshari, a 39-year-old pasta restaurant owner, standing behind the coutner at Fabrizio in central Tel Aviv on March 15, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)
  • Neatly set tables at Tandoori in central Tel Aviv on March 15, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)
    Neatly set tables at Tandoori in central Tel Aviv on March 15, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)
  • Persons working out at an outdoor gym in Tel Aviv on March 15, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)
    Persons working out at an outdoor gym in Tel Aviv on March 15, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)
  • Some people lounging at the beach in Tel Aviv on March 15, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)
    Some people lounging at the beach in Tel Aviv on March 15, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)
  • People waiting in line at a bank in central Tel Aviv, March 15, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)
    People waiting in line at a bank in central Tel Aviv, March 15, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)

In the middle of lunchtime at an Indian restaurant in central Tel Aviv, the tables were set neatly but there were no guests in sight.

Instead of serving, servers at Tandoori were busy managing incoming takeout and pickup orders, while chefs prepared them in the kitchen.

The staff of the restaurant were among the many Israelis who were forced to adjust to a new reality on Sunday after authorities unveiled a series of sweeping measures, including a ban on eateries allowing guests to sit in their establishments, to face off the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Authorities also ordered the closure of all schools and universities, bars, cafes, events halls, cinemas, entertainment parks, indoor gyms, most spaces in malls, and other places; they said that workplaces that were not specified as necessary to close could continue to operate as long as their employees keep a two-meter distance between one another.

Neatly set tables at Tandoori in central Tel Aviv on March 15, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)

“We have been through intifadas and wars,” the co-owner of Tandoori, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “We always know there will be an end to those things. What’s frightening with this virus is we don’t know when it will end.”

Two hundred and thirteen Israelis have been infected with coronavirus and more than 38,500 were in quarantine on Sunday, according the Health Ministry.

Since the virus emerged in China late in 2019, more than 167,000 confirmed cases have been reported. The virus has killed upwards of 6,400 people, most of them in China, though cases have been recorded in 135 countries and territories.

The restaurant owner called the restrictions “reasonable” and “necessary,” but emphasized that he hopes the government will provide small businesses with economic relief.

“It can at least provide tax exemptions for small businesses during this period,” he said.

Down the street at Fabrizio, an express pasta restaurant, tables and chairs were stacked and pushed to the side.

Owner Ofir Manshari, 39, said he was concerned his business would not stay afloat.

Some people lounging at the beach in Tel Aviv on March 15, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)

“If this situation goes on for many weeks, I don’t know if the restaurant will survive,” he said, while sauteing mushrooms. “How will I pay my workers, rent and other bills?”

Unlike the Tandoori owner, Manshari said he thought the restrictions went beyond what was necessary.

“They are too extreme,” he said. “They could have said that everyone needs to keep a distance of two meters from each other in restaurants and that would have been sufficient.”

A large number of people were walking through Tel Aviv’s streets on Sunday, while others waited in long lines at many banks and supermarkets; the iconic Carmel Market was open, with most vendors operating, but several shops nearby were closed.

Some people were also at outdoor gyms working out, lounging on the beach in swimsuits and sitting on benches reading books.

Iconic Carmel Market in Tel Aviv on March 15, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)

Noam Sabak, 25, said the government’s decisions had significantly shaken up his daily routine.

“I work and study, but now I’m not doing either,” he said, while doing tricep dips at an outdoor gym.

Sabak tutors young people preparing for college entrance exams and is studying psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Asked whether he was concerned about using the workout machines, he said he was not “thrilled” about touching them, but that he “needs to continue to live life.”

“I think it is a reasonable risk to take,” he said.

People working out at an outdoor gym in Tel Aviv on March 15, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)

Sitting near the sand, Meir Wigoder, 64, said he felt that Israel was in a situation similar to that of the 1991 Gulf War.

“There is a strong parallel,” said Wigoder, a professor at Sapir College in the Negev Desert. “People were afraid to go outside and were walking around with gas masks.”

During the Gulf War, Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles with conventional warheads at Israel, killing one Israeli, wounding several others and causing significant material damages. Fears at the time that the country might fire missiles with chemical warheads at the Jewish state led Israeli authorities to distribute gas masks to its citizens.

Wigoder, who said he was now teaching courses by video conference, added that he thought the government’s measures were acceptable, but he took issue with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that Israel would begin using advanced digital monitoring tools to track people infected with the virus.

Long lines at supermarket in central Tel Aviv on March 15, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)

“I don’t think they should track anyone without their permission,” he said, noting he thought most people would consent to such a measure. “If they start doing that without permission, a dangerous precedent will have been set.”

The Shin Bet security service denied rumors that tracking would be used to enforce quarantines, stating that it would only be employed to help authorities track the paths of confirmed carriers of the virus to find people they may have infected.

Ori Mizrahi, 17, was sitting by himself on a bench near the beach, listening to music.

He said he was relieved that he did not need to attend classes at his high school.

“I was there last week with hundreds of people and it was uncomfortable,” Mizrahi said. “You have no idea who has been where and who might be sick. Hopefully, with time, things will go back to normal.”

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