The government on Friday approved lifting further restrictions on businesses as it continued to gradually reopen Israel’s economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Stores that aren’t in shopping malls will be allowed to operate if they adhere to guidelines regarding cleanliness, the wearing of protective gear and enforcing social distancing.
Hairdressers and beauty salons can also resume operations from midnight Saturday, if hygiene regulations related to the virus are adhered to.
In addition, restaurants and food shops will be allowed to sell products for takeaway, not just home deliveries, if a physical barrier is placed between the cashier and the customers. The problems faced by small eateries had been given a face by falafel store owner Yuval Carmi, whose tearful account of being unable to provide for his family as he couldn’t sell food for takeaway, moved the nation this week.
However, the restriction barring the general public from traveling more than 100 meters from their homes for non-essential purposes or more than 500 meters for exercising or prayers will remain in effect until after Independence Day, which ends next Wednesday evening.
Additionally, the various fines for violating the guidelines have been doubled, from NIS 500 to NIS 1,000 and from NIS 1,000 to NIS 2,000.
The rules on wearing a mask have also changed with the minimum age limit raised from six to seven, and with fines of NIS 200 ($55) to now be given without an initial warning.
The stricter new regulations for masks are reportedly the result of a video conference call Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had Friday morning with a group of world leaders, including Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who told him that having mandatory masks works, Channel 12 news reported.
The increase in age limit means kindergarteners are now generally excluded from the regulation, pointing to a possible future reopening of daycare facilities.
The easing of commerce restrictions came after public confusion and anger over the decision-making process on which businesses can and cannot currently open. However, it was not announced if the decision to roll back the regulations was made on the basis of scientific evidence or economic and political concerns.
Anger rose particularly on Wednesday as IKEA reopened its furniture stores in accordance with government rules, drawing in large crowds, while many other shops remained shuttered. 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.
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.
On Friday, the government approved an NIS 8 billion ($2.27 billion) plan to increase support for self-employed Israelis and small business owners who have been hit hard by the coronavirus, following accusations that Israel wasn’t helping businesses forced to shut down.
According to the latest guidelines prior to Friday’s announcement, 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 also 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.
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.