The Health Ministry on Tuesday signed off on a plan allowing restaurants, bars and nightclubs to reopen next week, amid growing calls from business owners and some local leaders that they be allowed to reopen.
The ministry plan, which must still be approved by the government, would also allow pools and hotels to open starting May 27, along with extracurricular activities for kids and other types of classes.
Eateries, bars and other establishments, which have been shut down since mid-March, are among the last businesses not allowed to reopen as Israel has seen the number of daily coronavirus infections drop to a few dozen a day.
Current pandemic regulations mandate that eateries may only prepare food for delivery or takeout.
Under the plan approved by new Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, restaurants, bars and nightclubs that can serve up to 100 patrons may operate at full capacity, while those able to seat more may operate at 85 percent capacity.
The ministry said tables must be placed 1.5 meters apart and reservations should be made in advance if possible. Like with other businesses, eateries will be required to take the temperature of all customers.
Clubs and eateries will also be required to keep to Purple Badge standards, a new government certification for businesses that meet hygiene and social distancing measures due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Wait staff will be required to wear face masks at all times and there will be increased hygiene practices for all staff, Hebrew media reports said. Utensils will need to be washed at at least 72°Celsius (161.6°Fahrenheit).
Live performances will reportedly be prohibited.
The government was expected to meet on approving the measures later Tuesday.
The rules would dramatically increase the number of people allowed in a single space. Currently no gatherings in closed spaces are allowed. Only 50 people are currently allowed in open spaces, and 19 people in bounded open-air spaces.
Restaurant operators have been clamoring for permission to reopen with some already opening their doors to business, serving customers at outdoor seating in defiance of current lockdown directives.
According to the restaurant association, there are 14,000 restaurants, bars and cafes with an annual turnover of NIS 30 billion, Channel 12 reported.
Chef Yuval Ben Neriah told the station that the meter and a half distance rule meant many will only be able to operate at 50% capacity making it unprofitable for them to reopen.
“In that case, it is not worth it to open and there are restaurants that will not recover from this story,” said Ben Neriah, who owns several restaurants in Tel Aviv.
The meter and a half rule is more lax than the usual 2 meters of space demanded between people in most settings.
For pools, the Health Ministry plan will limit capacity to one person for every six square meters and one person to every 10 square meters in areas outside the pool.
Pools at hotels will be subject to the same directives, while hotel dining rooms will have to adhere to the same rules as restaurants.
The ministry said extracurricular activities and other classes must keep the same groups of kids together and maintain distance between children.
Earlier Tuesday, the Health Ministry said Edelstein, who took up his post on Monday, ordered that events halls be allowed to reopen on June 14, with similar rules to restaurants.
Each event will require a list of guests and a person appointed to be in charge of overseeing coronavirus measures. If any guests are later diagnosed with COVID-19 the event hall will be required to contact all the guests to inform them of the development. Guests will be required to keep two meters apart unless seated at tables, and wear masks all the time unless eating. Dancing will be permitted, though with social distancing rules.
Halls that can hold over 200 people will be permitted to operate only at 85% of capacity. Like restaurants, wait staff will be required to wear masks at all times. Although buffets will be allowed, food will be served by staff rather than guests serving themselves.
A separate area in the event hall will be designated for those who are at greater risk from the virus, the statement said.
Edelstein stressed that event hall owners will be responsible to ensure the directives are maintained.
He also visited a protest camp outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem where some 20 event hall operators begun a hunger strike Monday amid an ongoing heat wave that has already claimed two lives.
Edelstein told the protesters he sympathizes with them but urged them to “take care of your health.”
As of Tuesday there have been 16,650 cases of COVID-19 in Israel, and 277 deaths from the virus. While 39 people remain on ventilators, 13,299 have recovered.
The number of new infections has slowed dramatically in recent weeks. Israel has gone more than two weeks without seeing over 100 new confirmed cases in a single day, and the figure has dropped to well below fifty in recent days.
Amid the sustained drop in infections, the government has increasingly rolled back restrictions meant to curb the outbreak, opening schools and allowing many businesses to reopen.
Beaches are to be reopened on Wednesday in accordance with Health Ministry directives on social distancing. Bathers will be required to keep two meters away from one another and indoor showers and changing rooms will be closed for the time being, the Interior Ministry specified in an announcement.
Beaches will have to adhere to the government’s purple badge standards in order to remain open.
Despite the announcement, quite a few beaches in the Tel Aviv and central Israel area have seen bathers for weeks.