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No gatherings or flights until September: How Israel may be planning to exit

Netanyahu reiterates plans to start gradual easing after Passover; officials tell news site there will be gradual ‘liberation’ of economy, but warn restrictions could return

A woman walks past boxes of matza for sale at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on April 8, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A woman walks past boxes of matza for sale at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on April 8, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel is expected to begin easing some restrictions aimed at containing the coronavirus following the Passover holiday, but will reportedly continue to limit gatherings and international flights until September.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday reiterated his promise to begin very gradually easing some restrictions after the Passover holiday that ends on the evening of April 15.

“We are making a great effort so that after the holiday… we can gradually start releasing some citizens, some residents,” Netanyahu told a group of lone soldiers in a video message.

Netanyahu did not elaborate on which restrictions would be lifted, saying only that “it would be a gradual process that would take a long time.”

Quoting unnamed government officials, the Ynet news site reported Friday that there will be a gradual “liberation” of economic activity after Passover, with measures first loosening up for tech companies, financial firms and exported-dependent industries.

Leisure and entertainment venues such as cafes, restaurants, malls, theaters, event halls and sports stadiums will stay closed during the first stage of the exit, while gatherings, including in synagogues, were expected to remain forbidden until September, the report said.

Once malls and restaurants do gradually reopen, they will be required to abide by certain precautions, with the officials quoted saying that businesses such as barbershops and beauty salons may be allowed to begin operating again if employees wear protective gear and adhere to Health Ministry directives.

Channel 12 reported Friday that there were no current plans to return children and students to school at this stage.

Though flights to and from Israel were not expected to return in full until September, once some flights were restored the possibility of allowing routes important for exports and trade will be considered, according to the report.

People wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport on March 10, 2020 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

There may also reportedly be restrictions on movement for elderly people and those most at risk from COVID-19.

The officials told Ynet that the measures needed to be taken cautiously and warned restrictions could be reinstated in the case of a fresh outbreak.

In a separate report, the Walla news site said Netanyahu was expected to weigh plans early next week for gradually reopening the economy.

The first steps were expected to include allowing a greater number of employees at essential workplaces, along with continued limitations on movement depending on age and the number of virus cases in a given locale, the report said.

“In the beginning [we’re] talking about the opening of street stores and open shopping centers,” an unnamed minister told the news site, adding there would be limits on the number of people allowed in shops and requirement to wear a mask and gloves.

The ministers said businesses would not be allowed to immediately reopen in areas with a high number of infections, such as Jerusalem or Bnei Brak.

According to a Channel 12 news report Friday, the number of new daily cases will have to be around 100 or lower before the government can begin implementing its exit plan.

Netanyahu said Monday there were was a “realistic chance” that Israel could begin emerging from the semi-lockdown on the country after Mimouna, a one-day holiday immediately following Passover, but it would depend on Israelis adhering to the virus-related directives.

He said that when that easing of restrictions comes, it will be done on a phased basis, with those who are most vulnerable required to stay in isolation long after those who less vulnerable are allowed out.

A man wearing a protective mask and gloves sells products at the door of a pharmacy in Bnei Brak on April 6, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, the director-general of the Health Ministry, told the network on Tuesday that restrictions could be eased once the number of new daily coronavirus cases drops from hundreds to dozens.

“Israel is in a much better place than more or less all advanced countries we compare ourselves to,” he said.

As of Friday evening, there were 10,095 confirmed cases in Israel, with 94 deaths.

In an effort to limit a fresh outbreak of the virus, the government barred Israelis from leaving their home towns from Tuesday evening until Friday morning, while citizens were required to remain at home from Wednesday evening to Thursday morning, the first night of Passover.

Friday morning also saw restrictions slightly eased in the virus-hit city of Bnei Brak, which had been under a tighter lockdown.

In a statement announcing the coming lifting of the lockdown and the government’s decision to ease Bnei Brak’s quarantine, the Health Ministry urged Israelis to continue maintaining social distancing regulations and not to become complacent.

“The danger of the coronavirus has not passed. We all saw what happened in other countries around the world,” Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said in the statement, likely referring to countries in East Asia that have seen a resurgence of the virus after rolling back restrictions. “A gradual opening of the economy will only be possible if we all make sure to keep the rules, despite the hardships.”

The announcement said a decision regarding special measures for Jerusalem, where most infections have been in ultra-Orthodox parts of the city, would be forthcoming.

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