The Health Ministry’s plan to gradually ease the national coronavirus lockdown will last at least four months and depend on ever-decreasing daily case numbers, according to a report Saturday.
The plan cited by Channel 12 proposes target dates for the different stages of lifting restrictions, but any easing of the limitations could be pushed off if the infection rate hasn’t dropped enough. Most aspects of the plan have previously been reported as well by other news outlets.
Israel has been under a national lockdown for the past three weeks to contain a raging second wave of the pandemic, which at one point reached some 9,000 daily cases. However, recent days have seen both the number of daily cases and the percentage of positive tests go down amid sweeping restrictions on the public.
The first stage of the plan, slated to begin next Sunday, October 18, is dependent on the number of new cases per day dropping to 2,000. It will see preschools reopen, as well as businesses that do not receive customers; the limitation on traveling over 1 kilometer from home with specific, permissible justification will be lifted; restrictions on protests will be lifted; families that live apart will be able to meet; beaches will reopen; restaurants will be able to offer takeaway; and Ben Gurion Airport will reopen to new flights — beyond its highly limited operations at the moment.
The second stage (dependent on 1,000 cases a day) is slated for November 1. It will see grades 1-4 return to school, synagogues reopen and elective medical procedures resume.
The third stage (dependent on 500 cases a day) is planned for mid-November. It will see businesses with in-store customers open, as will gyms, shops, shopping malls and markets.
In the fourth stage (dependent on 250 cases a day), planned for the end of November, restaurants and cafes will be able to host customers, and various leisure activities and attractions will reopen.
The fifth stage (no specific target number of cases given), set for mid-December, will see pools, hotels and guest houses reopen. The sixth stage, at the end of December, will see museums and entertainment venues open and group sports allowed. In the seventh stage, in early January 10, all grades above fourth will be able to return to school and in the final stage, in late January, audiences will be allowed at sporting events, and clubs and bars will reopen.
The network noted that health officials are doubtful the seventh and eighth stages are achievable before the pandemic is beaten.
The Channel 12 report also noted that these relatively orderly plans could be complicated by the so-called traffic-light program, that divides towns into red, orange and green by the severity of the pandemic. Officials have said different locales could see different timelines according to infection rates.
The report said Education Minister Yoav Gallant plans to fight to reopen schools as soon as possible, arguing that they do not help spread the pandemic but only reflect its dispersal.
Earlier Saturday Israel’s coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu said he expected the country’s daily coronavirus infection rate to drop to 2,000 this week, after it moved down to some 3,000-4,000 daily cases in recent days.
Thursday saw Israel at its lowest test positivity rate in a month, with 7.9 percent of tests coming back with COVID-19 diagnoses. Friday had the rate at 8.3%. Positivity rates had hovered at around 12%-13% for much of recent weeks, at one point reaching a high of 15%.
On Saturday evening the national case count stood at 289,799, of which 62,165 were active cases. Seriously ill patients stood at 845, of whom 232 were on ventilators.
The death toll was at 1,914, with 35 deaths added to the toll since the morning. The Health Ministry said only 12 people had died since midnight, without explaining the discrepancy. It was possible some of the deaths were from previous days and added retroactively.
Gamzu warned in an interview with Channel 12 Friday that there may be a spike in cases in the coming weeks as a result of those who violated health guidelines against crowding over the Sukkot holiday, which ends Saturday night.
The current lockdown, Israel’s second since the pandemic started, began on September 18 before Rosh Hashanah and was tightened a week later.
It has been marked by clashes between enforcing police and ultra-Orthodox protesters, as well as between police and anti-government protesters who are calling for Netanyahu’s resignation due to his ongoing corruption trial and the government’s handling of the virus outbreak.