Government pushes bill to let it enact virus restrictions before Knesset okay

Proposed law would allow cabinet to put measures into effect that would only be rescinded if MKs fail to approve them within 7 days

A restaurant owner outside shuttered shops in the Old City of Jerusalem, on March 30 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A restaurant owner outside shuttered shops in the Old City of Jerusalem, on March 30 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Prime Minister’s Office announced Monday that it was seeking legislation that will allow the government to enact emergency coronavirus measures that will be effective immediately, without needing to wait for an okay from the Knesset.

Under the proposed law, the government could put a rule into effect and it would only be rescinded if the Knesset fails to approve the measure or does not vote on it within seven days.

Under the current rules, government decisions must be approved by the coronavirus committee or another relevant panel, which can delay implementation by a day or more. Under the new measure, if a committee refuses to deal with the measure in a timely manner, it would move to the full Knesset plenum for a vote.

The government has been criticized for making hasty decisions on lockdowns and other restrictions, sometimes based on faulty data, and for failing to adequately prepare agencies carrying out the measures or failing to warn residents in time, leading to confusion and complaints of unclear instructions.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also reportedly warned ministers that Israel needs to be able to quickly enact guidelines if they are to be effective in stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

Police officers patrol in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem on July 5, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Thursday, he said the government was looking into legislation that would cut bureaucracy and oversight surrounding government decisions on lockdown measures.

Hours before Monday’s announcement, the cabinet passed a raft of restrictions to contain the renewed coronavirus outbreak, including limits on crowds in restaurants, synagogues and on public transportation, while also shuttering event halls, cultural venues, swimming pools, gyms, bars and nightclubs.

Pending approval from 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, with participants required to wear face masks and keep a distance of two meters between one another.

Summer camps and summer schools will not go ahead except for kindergarten kids and grades 1-4, according to the cabinet decision. 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 will be required to work from home.

The decision also states that within 48 hours, the Finance Ministry must introduce a compensation package for those harmed by the new regulations.

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