Finance Ministry said to draw up 4-stage reopening plan, starting with malls

Officials said to discuss outline for business openings, with pools and night clubs at final stage; Health Ministry reportedly considers coming week key for deciding timeline

View of closed shops in the empty Dizengoff Center mall in Tel Aviv on March 19, 2020 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
View of closed shops in the empty Dizengoff Center mall in Tel Aviv on March 19, 2020 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Finance Ministry has reportedly drawn up a four-step plan for reopening the economy, with the infection rate in coming days seen as crucial in determining the timeline.

The outline is still under discussion and does not include any specific dates, Channel 13 reported on Friday.

In the first step, malls and outdoor markets will open, and Palestinian workers from the West Bank will be allowed to return to construction jobs in Israel.

For the second stage, group classes and community centers will be opened, but swimming pools in the centers will remain closed. Non-medical health treatments, such as physiotherapy, will be allowed, and nature preserves and museums will reopen, said the report, which did not cite its sources.

In the next step, movie theaters, theaters for plays, fitness centers, essential flights, auditoriums, restaurants and bars will open for business.

Lastly, night clubs, swimming pools, water parks and amusement parks will be opened to the public.

A man at police checkpoint at the Ḳiryat Belz neighborhood of Jerusalem, which is under lockdown due to a virus outbreak, May 1, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The Health Ministry considers the coming week to be crucial for determining a time frame frame for reopening. Officials will gauge the effects of recent reopening measures to make their decisions going forward.

The Health Ministry believes that if the recent easing of restrictions has increased infections in Israel, it will become apparent in the coming days, Channel 13 reported, citing senior officials in the Health Ministry.

However, police on Friday reportedly expressed concern over the flouting of social distancing rules after thousands of Israelis took advantage of the warm weather to spend time outside, heading to beaches in Tel Aviv and Herzliya, many of them not keeping to distancing rules and not wearing masks. Others thronged to markets to shop ahead of the Sabbath or were just hanging out in outdoor spaces, like Tel Aviv’s iconic Dizengoff Square.

Israelis on the beach promenade and beach in Tel Aviv, May 01, 2020 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

As the number of new infections has slowed, the government has begun loosening restrictions meant to contain the pandemic, such as lifting the limit on the distance Israelis can exercise from their homes and allowing many businesses to reopen.

However, it has also kept in a place a ban on traveling more than 100 meters from one’s home if not for a permitted activity, while requiring Israelis to wear a mask outside and urging them to follow social distancing directives.

Restaurants and bars have been shuttered in Israel since mid-March due to the coronavirus, but are allowed to make deliveries and as of April 25, customers may pick up take-away food.

Shops facing the street were also allowed to open earlier this week.

Some 55,000 citations have been handed out in the last several weeks for infractions, including not wearing a mask or being more than 100 meters from home to breaking quarantine or isolation orders. The fines range from NIS 200 to NIS 5,000 ($57-$1,440).

Israelis shop at a market in Ramle on May 1, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

New guidelines approved by the government earlier this week slap a NIS 200 fine on anyone over the age of 7 caught without a face mask when in public, including first-time offenders, who previously got away with a warning.

Under the rule, masks covering the mouth and nose must be worn “anywhere outside the residence.” Business owners must also deny entry and service to customers who are not wearing masks.

The rule, however, does not apply to people with emotional, mental or medical conditions that would prevent them from wearing a mask, drivers in their cars, people alone in a building, and two workers who work regularly together, provided they maintain social distancing.

Additionally, police said Thursday that over 200 criminal cases have been opened “related to quarantine violations, violating a lawful instruction and spreading the virus,” and some 150 businesses have been shuttered “for violation of the regulations.”

Restrictions on physical exercise outdoors were partly lifted Thursday morning, with sports enthusiasts no longer limited to a distance of 500 meters from home, in accordance with a cabinet decision earlier this week.

Group sports, swimming in the sea and visiting beaches are still prohibited.

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