The government on Monday passed a raft of restrictions to contain the renewed coronavirus outbreak, including limiting restaurants and synagogues, reducing the number of passengers on public transportation, hiking fines for not wearing face masks and shutting down event halls, cultural venues, swimming pools, gyms, bars and nightclubs.
Israel is “a step away from a full lockdown,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told cabinet members during the special meeting. While falling short of shutting down the country like earlier this year, the new measures are a significant step back from May’s reopening of the economy.
The decision states that within 48 hours, the Finance Ministry must introduce a compensation package for those harmed by the new regulations.
The new restrictions still have to be approved by the Knesset’s coronavirus committee.
The decision by the cabinet limits restaurants to 20 customers in indoor areas and 30 people in outdoor areas, with tables set at a distance from one another.
All public gatherings will be capped at 20 people, wearing face masks and keeping a distance of two meters.
All cultural performances are off, and event halls, clubs and bars will be closed, including in hotels. Organized sporting events can continue but without an audience.
Summer camps and summer schools will not go ahead except for kindergarten kids and grades 1-4.
Buses will only be allowed to carry 20 passengers at a time, with open windows and no air conditioning.
At least 30 percent of employees in the public sector are required to work from home.
The cabinet accepted a proposal by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri to keep synagogues open, but with a maximum occupancy of 19 people, down from the current 50. National broadcaster Kan reported that the decision was a compromise between Deri and the rest of the cabinet, which had sought to shutter houses of worship.
Meanwhile, the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved the government’s request to raise the fine for failing to wear a face mask in public from NIS 200 to NIS 500 ($145), the Haaretz daily reported.
The committee green-lighted special training for municipal inspectors, allowing them to help police enforce social distancing measures.
Following public criticism of some cases where cops used what was seen as unnecessary violence, the committee said cops and inspectors would be allowed to use their judgment and avoid handing out fines in some circumstances.
The Knesset plenum was expected to vote later Monday on the decision regarding the masks.
The closure of yeshivas was also taken off the table in response to pressure. MK Moshe Gafni on Sunday threatened to withdraw his ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party from the coalition unless yeshivas stayed open.
Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman, a frequent critic of the ultra-Orthodox community, blasted the government, asserting that the synagogue decision showed that the interests of the public were being subordinated to coalition politics, Kan reported.
The government permitted the reopening of synagogues in late May following sustained public pressure. Synagogues served as major vectors for the transmission of the coronavirus during the early days of the pandemic.
Monday’s cabinet meeting, with its approval of more restrictive regulations, came after new restrictions reducing gathering sizes at synagogues, bars, clubs and event halls to 50 went into effect Monday morning.
The last few weeks have seen the reversal of many of the gains made in the fight against the coronavirus in recent months. New daily virus cases, which had dropped to low double digits through most of May, are soaring to some 1,000 per day, and the number of active cases is at an all-time high of more than 11,600.
Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch on Sunday warned that the second wave of coronavirus infections was worse than the first and that mass gatherings must be stopped to slow the rate of infection.
The government’s response drew heated criticism from opposition chief Yair Lapid.
“The management of the coronavirus crisis is a humiliating national failure, it is dangerous and without precedent. We are the only country in the world that is less prepared for the second wave than it was for the first. Netanyahu failed,” Lapid said in a statement on Monday.
Calling the government “bloated,” referring to its large cabinet, he said that it had shown itself incapable of handling the crisis and that its guidelines were unclear and confusing, noting that regulations limiting events to 50 people did not take into account the size of the venue.
“The Israeli public is furious because no one understands what the government wants. No one understands the instructions. No one understands why they announce financial packages that never happen and assistance that never comes. No one understands because no one explains,” said Lapid.