Economy Ministry said to urge reopening restaurants; beaches may also be okayed

Outline of plan reportedly presented to Health Ministry calls for frequent disinfection of food venue surfaces, social distancing and patrons wearing masks while they wait

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Israelis wearing face masks due to the coronavirus outbreak near a closed restaurant in Jerusalem, May 3, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israelis wearing face masks due to the coronavirus outbreak near a closed restaurant in Jerusalem, May 3, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Economy Ministry on Monday presented the Health Ministry with a proposal for reopening cafes and restaurants that have been closed for long weeks under lockdown measures aimed at curbing the outbreak of the coronavirus, Hebrew media reported.

Although the government has been looking at releasing eateries from the restrictions at the end of the month, the Economy Ministry was said to have sought for the date be brought forward to the middle of next week.

The plan will be discussed at a meeting between the ministries, scheduled for Wednesday. But Health Officials told Channel 12 that they were skeptical of moving up the schedule, as they feared easing too many restrictions too quickly.

Under the terms of the proposal, patrons at cafes and restaurants would be questioned upon entry, whether they have a cough, or have had a high temperature in the previous week, or have had close contact with a coronavirus patient in the previous two weeks.

The temperatures of customers would also be taken, as is already being done at many stores that have reopened, as the government rolls back lockdown measures aimed a curbing new infections of the virus. Employees at restaurants would have to answer the same questions when they arrived at work each day.

Customers would need to wear a face mask when they entered or exited the premises and groups of customers would need to maintain social distancing between their respective tables. Tables would be positioned for social distancing as well, according to the plan, and only set once customers already sat down.

All tables and chairs would need to be disinfected between customers, and surfaces, door handles, handrails, desks, and light switches would also need regular disinfection.

Where possible, utensils would be washed in a dishwasher at 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit). In establishments without dishwashers, utensils would need to be disinfected before being washed by hand.

Kitchen staff would need to wear masks at all times, as well as clean uniforms, or clean aprons over their clothes.

Employees would need to remain two meters apart and restaurants would be urged to aim to have permanent teams on shifts, so that the same employees always work together.

The proposal came as the Tel Aviv municipality presented its own plan for opening the city’s beaches to the public. Although beaches are still officially closed due to the lockdown, the past weekend saw thousands of people ignore the restrictions and head to country’s coasts.

Workers arrange beach chairs and umbrellas at the Tel Aviv beach on May 5, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The municipality presented the plan, along with restaurant franchises operating along its coast, to representatives from the health and interior ministries at Tel Aviv’s Frishman Beach.

Under the terms of the proposal, beach-goers would be required to sit in groups of no more than six people, with each group at least six meters apart. The number of people allowed into public toilets at the same time would be limited, while beach equipment such as tables, chairs, sun-loungers and umbrella shades would be spread out. Water pressure in public outdoor showers would be reduced to prevent splashing.

Beach-goers would be required to wear face masks at all times, in accordance with a Health Ministry directive that already applies to Israelis, when going out in public. Hand sanitizer gel, masks, and gloves will be on sale at kiosks along the beaches.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai attends the annual international Municipal Innovation Conference in Tel Aviv, on February 19, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said the plan can be implemented straight away and meets all demands by the Health Ministry to obtain a Purple Badge, a government initiative that certifies that store and workplaces are adhering to hygiene guidelines allowing them to reopen.

“After long weeks of lockdown, Israelis need a little fresh air,” Huldai said. “The beaches offer entertainment for the general public, in the open air.”

The Health Ministry responded to the beach proposal saying it would only approve the plan if it meets ministry standards.

“The issue is being discussed with the relevant local authorities and only after meeting all the standards we have set for maintaining public health will we be able to allow opening [the beaches], this in accordance with the Purple Badge standard and the outline of the government’s timetable.”

Tel Aviv municipality has already forged ahead with forming a plan to open the city’s restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating.

Also Monday, Dr. Boaz Lev, who heads the ministry’s pandemic unit, told the Ynet website that in his opinion swimming in the sea can be allowed, as long as swimmers do not gather in groups on the shore. Although beaches remain closed, water sports have already been permitted under the eased lockdown.

“As long as we are in spacious places and there is no gathering, I don’t think that swimming in the sea needs to be a problem,” Lev said.

Lev told Ynet that as long as the public keeps to social distancing, recreation venues such as night clubs and bars can also be reopened.

“We need to create a situation in which physical distancing is possible, and with physical distancing, we can open as much as possible,” he said. “The more the public internalizes it and behaves in a way that allows us to, the more we can open. It is everyone’s responsibility to follow the guidelines.”

Dr. Boaz Lev at a discussion at the Knesset on May 25, 2010. (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

The beach proposal came after Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan in a tweet Sunday urged the Health Ministry to reopen beaches and kick off the summer season, saying it was impossible for police to enforce the current regulations and to explain the logic of most public places opening, but not beaches.

Sunday saw the cabinet approve the reopening of parks and nature reserves, with people allowed to use public gym equipment in public gardens as long as they respect social distancing rules. However, children’s playgrounds were still closed.

In another relaxing of virus related restrictions, travelers from abroad arriving in the country are no longer required to spend two weeks of quarantine in state-overseen isolation hotels, and instead returning Israelis and others whose lives are centered in Israel are allowed to self-quarantine at home if they can do so.

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