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Health minister says will reassess opening of malls after customers flood shops

Petah Tikva mayor instructs shopping center to close due to large crowds: ‘We support the merchants and businesses but the guidelines must be followed’

Israelis shop at the Ayalon Mall in Ramat Gan after it reopened, November 27, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Israelis shop at the Ayalon Mall in Ramat Gan after it reopened, November 27, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Health Ministry Yuli Edelstein on Friday said top health officials would reassess the reopening of malls after Israelis flocked to shopping centers permitted to reopen following a months-long closure.

Fifteen malls around the country were allowed to reopen Friday as part of a plan to evaluate their compliance with social-distancing guidelines, drawing large crowds of shoppers who waited in line to enter stores.

Edelstein instructed Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy and coronavirus czar Nachman Ash to meet Saturday evening after the “serious crowding at malls… and in light of the rising morbidity figures,” a statement from his office said.

The officials will present him with their conclusions at the start of the week and Edelstein will then formulate his position, the statement added.

“I’m really worried this is another issue that could increase morbidity,” Levy said in an interview with Kan news Friday. “We’ll have to think about whether to continue the pilot and how.”

In Petah Tikva, Mayor Rami Greenberg ordered the early closure of a mall due to crowding.

“We support the merchants and businesses but the guidelines must be followed,” Greenberg told Channel 12 news. “If they don’t meet the conditions, we’ll be forced to close the malls.”

Amid extensive media coverage of the crowding, some heads of shopping chains complained it was the inevitable result of limiting the number of malls permitted to open, Channel 13 news reported.

“They have doomed us to failure,” said one unnamed business owner.

Malls have been closed — except for certain essential stores within them, such as pharmacies or food sellers — since mid-September under lockdown rules. Street-front stores were allowed to reopen earlier this month, with a cap on the number of customers, which was raised from four to 10 on Wednesday.

Late Thursday, ministers okayed the return of students in grades 10-12 to in-person learning at high schools in “green” and “yellow” cities with low infection rates.

Starting Sunday, these students will go to school at least twice a week, with classes capped at 20 people.

“It’s impossible to study on Zoom, to sit in front of a computer from morning to afternoon. We lack the connection and interaction with the teachers and friends in class,” Omri Afek, a 12th grader in Nesher, told the Ynet news site. “I hope the return to schools will improve my emotional state.”

Students in grades 7-9 are set to resume classes on December 6.

Illustrative: Children enter the Beit Hakerem school in Jerusalem on November 24, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Also Friday, the education and finance ministries reached an agreement to allow kindergarteners and first and second graders to attend classes over the Hannukah holiday.

Parents will have to pay a fee of up to NIS 30 per day, with prices changing in accordance with the socioeconomic ranking of the community in which they live.

The agreement came after Education Minister Yoav Gallant called for the Hanukkah vacation to be scrapped, which was opposed by teachers. Under the deal, teachers are not required to work but can volunteer to do so for extra pay, according to the Haaretz daily.

Separately, a ministerial committee approved localized lockdown measures in Umm al-Fahm and Yafa an-Naseriyye due to high infection rates in the two Arab towns. The measures will take effect Saturday and remain in force until December 3.

Lockdowns were extended in Majd al-Krum and Kafr Manda until Tuesday and in Arraba until Monday.

The committee also further limited the movement of residents in such “restricted areas,” barring them from traveling more than 500 meters from their homes rather than 1,000 meters, a joint statement from the Health Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office said.

A technician demonstrates on an airport staffer how samples are taken, at a new on-site COVID-19 testing facility at Ben Gurion International Airport, November 9, 2020. (Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

A report by a military task force released earlier Friday warned that the country’s virus cases were now rising “in a clear and consistent manner,” adding that the increase in testing alone did not fully account for the rise in the number of identified infections.

On Friday morning, the virus’s basic reproduction number — the average number of people each virus carrier infects — reached 1.13.

A basic reproduction number of over 1 indicates that the pandemic’s rate of spread in the population is growing.

On Thursday, over 1,000 new cases were recorded for the second day in a row, the latest indication that the spread of the virus is once again accelerating, even as the government pushed ahead with reopening the country from its second lockdown.

According to the latest Health Ministry figures, as of Friday evening there were 9,616 active cases out of 333,802 infections recorded since the pandemic began. The death toll stood at 2,839.

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