Health Ministry said to favor allowing visits to grandparents, opening beaches

Health Ministry said to favor allowing visits to grandparents, opening beaches

Report says gatherings of up to 10 may be permitted this week; Finance Ministry’s four-stage plan calls for economy to reopen fully by mid-June

A son accompanied by his daughter stand 2 meters away from his mother's balcony as he meets with her in Jerusalem during the coronavirus pandemic, on April 30, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A son accompanied by his daughter stand 2 meters away from his mother's balcony as he meets with her in Jerusalem during the coronavirus pandemic, on April 30, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry is reportedly set to recommend an immediate end to the ban on visits to second-degree relatives, including grandparents, according to a television report on Sunday, as the government considered various plans to further relax the pandemic restrictions with the number of infections in the country having slowed considerably.

The ministry will reportedly say gatherings of up to ten people should be permitted, with the new directives possibly coming into effect as early as this week, Channel 12 reported.

In addition, malls and markets will reportedly reopen in two weeks, on May 17, and restaurants will be able to allow diners to eat on-site from June 15, the report said.

In all social situations, distancing of two meters must be maintained and masks must be worn, the report said.

An Israeli woman talks to a friend from her apartment balcony as they practice social distancing, in Jerusalem on March 31, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Gatherings of more than two people are currently banned with the exception of work and prayer, which have specific restrictions. Israelis have been told to avoid meeting with anyone outside of their nuclear family, including for religious holidays, with the specific instruction not to visit grandparents, who may be more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The cabinet is reportedly slated to discuss various new easings of public restrictions on Monday, as coronavirus infection rates remained low. The meeting was initially set for Sunday but delayed for the “finalizing of regulations,” Hebrew media reported.

President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday asked Health Minister Yaakov Litzman to consider allowing family members to visit those with physical and mental disabilities living in facilities operated by the state or on its behalf.

“I ask you to take into account the genuine crisis that may be created among those with disabilities who are cut off from their families,” the president wrote in a letter to Litzman on Monday. “It is very possible that the severe psychological implications of this kind of isolation justifies a relaxation of the policy of limitations on visits, or at least a clearer distinction between those in risk groups and those for whom isolation is a greater danger to them.”

The Health Ministry on Sunday recommended opening the beaches for surfing and bathing and said that the government will make a decision on the matter by Monday.

In a Knesset committee hearing, Health Ministry Deputy Director General Itamar Grotto said, “In our latest recommendations is the opening [of beaches]. It depends on the rate at which the government can convene and make the decision, today or tomorrow, but this is our recommendation.”

Israelis on the beach promenade and beach in Tel Aviv, May 01, 2020 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Also on Sunday, Army Radio reported a rival plan from the Finance Ministry for the easing of restrictions.

In the first step of this plan, malls will open as soon as Tuesday. In addition, the ministry wants the public to be allowed to visit parks and nature reserves, and universities and colleges will be permitted to start limited on-campus classes.

The plan also calls for all children under the age of six to be back in daycare and kindergarten frameworks by May 10. Schools reopened Sunday morning in a limited capacity, with grades one through three, as well as eleventh and twelfth, returning to studies under many restrictions.

Israeli students return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus on May 3, 2020 in Jerusalem (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

For the second stage on May 17, open-air markets will be allowed to reopen and hotels can take guests but without any gathering in public areas.

Gyms, group classes and community centers would also be allowed to restart activities and swimming pools would reopen for exercise, under Health Ministry restrictions. The Finance Ministry also wants the resumption of professional sports but without an audience.

Museums, libraries and cultural centers should also be allowed to open on that date, the Finance Ministry said, subject to Health Ministry rules for gatherings. Non-medical health treatments, such as physiotherapy, will be allowed, and grades 4-6 should be allowed to go back to school.

Stage three on May 31 would see the opening of event halls, restaurants and bars, as well as theaters for plays and movie theaters. Grades 7-10 would head back to the classroom on that date.

Illustrative: Customers sit at a restaurant on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, June 22, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

In the fourth and final stage on June 14, the Finance Ministry said, everything not allowed to reopen thus far should be allowed to operate.

The expected easing of restrictions came as Health Ministry officials and police expressed concern over weakened public discipline over the weekend, with thousands of Israelis flouting social distancing rules and flocking to beaches, parks and markets.

Photos and video showed many people did not keep to distancing rules and did not wear masks outside. A senior police official told Channel 13 news that there was a “significant weakening of discipline” among the public regarding adherence to coronavirus restrictions and said police were still enforcing restrictions with fines.

Pedestrians in Jerusalem, April 30, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry considers the coming week to be crucial for determining a time frame for reopening the economy. Officials will gauge the effects of recent reopening measures to make their decisions going forward.

The Health Ministry believes that if the recent easing of restrictions has increased infections in Israel, it will become apparent in the coming days, Channel 13 reported, citing senior officials in the ministry.

As the number of new infections slowed, the government has begun loosening restrictions meant to contain the pandemic, such as lifting the limit on the distance Israelis can exercise from their homes and allowing many businesses to reopen.

Israel has seen the number of daily infections dip, and on Sunday saw fewer than 50 cases in the previous 24 hours. The death toll from the virus in Israel is 230.

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