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Guest houses, some hotels set to reopen next week

Tourism minister says only ground floor rooms can again host guests, cautions planned May 3 reopening could be delayed if infection rate worsens; Health Ministry said to object

Illustrative: A guesthouse in northern Israel. (YouTube screenshot)
Illustrative: A guesthouse in northern Israel. (YouTube screenshot)

The cabinet gave tentative approval on Monday to the reopening of some hotels and guest houses next week, a move that could provide some relief to the battered tourism industry.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said that, as a first step, guest houses and hotel rooms at ground level would be able to reopen on Sunday, over a month and a half after they were required to close, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A standard that hotels and guest houses must meet in order to reopen their doors will soon be drawn up, in coordination with the Health Ministry, he added.

Levin warned that the May 3 target date for reopening was dependent on the infection rate not rising before then.

A group of visitors from around the world dressed up as Santa Claus pose for a picture with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin during a parade through Jerusalem’s Old City, as part of a visit hosted by the Tourism Ministry, January 5, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

“This is welcome news to the many thousands of businesses owners and workers in the tourism industry,” he wrote on Facebook. “For the first time since the outbreak of the crisis a date has been set for their return to operating.”

Under the proposal green-lighted by ministers, hotels will have to keep pools, jacuzzis, and dining rooms closed, the Ynet news site reported.

It was unclear if the hotels would be allowed to offer room service.

According to the news site, the Health Ministry expressed reservations about Levin’s plan during a meeting of government ministers, and requested that date for reopening be deferred, but it was nevertheless approved.

“It doesn’t make sense. If a hair salon can be opened, why can’t a nuclear family be at a guest house,” Levin, a close political ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was quoted as saying.

The tourism and hospitality industries have been some of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, with restrictions on travel, restaurants, and hotels forcing many businesses to halt operations.

The unemployment rate in the Red Sea coastal city of Eilat, whose economy is highly dependent on tourism, has soared passed 70 percent, the highest of any city in Israel.

Piles of chairs are pictured at an empty Red Sea beach in the southern resort city of Eilat on April 17, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

The decision to allow guesthouses and hotels to reopen came as ministers gave tentative approval to the gradual reopening of schools.

It also came a day after many nonessential businesses were allowed to reopen for the first time in a month, Israel’s biggest step yet toward reopening the economy as new virus cases and the number of seriously ill patients steadily decline.

The Health Ministry on Saturday defined new parameters on which to base its decisions regarding the easing or tightening of restrictions on the public and the economy, amid widespread criticism of a confused decision-making process.

The considerations include the number of new daily sick remaining below 300 and the number of seriously ill also staying under that number.

As of Monday, there have been 15,466 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Israel and 203 deaths.

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