Officials set illness stats by which to judge new measures

Hundreds of chains spurn government, remain closed as owners demand compensation

Big businesses say their losses will deepen if they don’t get safety net from government; workers union says they are using furloughed employees as ‘hostages’

File: People walk past black friday advertisements at an outlet of the "Castro" fashion chain in Jerusalem, November 24, 2019 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
File: People walk past black friday advertisements at an outlet of the "Castro" fashion chain in Jerusalem, November 24, 2019 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Hundreds of large businesses remained closed Sunday, despite approval to reopen, in protest against the government and as they demand compensation for the recent closures and ongoing restrictions.

Some 200 chains, including leading stores in the clothing, optics, home decor, camping and sports industries as well as cafes and restaurants, chose not to open their doors even as many pandemic restrictions were lifted at midnight Saturday. A full (Hebrew) list is available here.

According to a government decision Friday, all stores that are not in shopping malls or outdoor markets are allowed to operate from Sunday if they adhere to guidelines regarding cleanliness, the wearing of protective gear and enforcing social distancing.

But large business owners are demanding government compensation for operation losses, in line with those announced for small businesses.

The Association of Fashion and Commerce Chains said in a statement that opening stores in a limited capacity now without a government-provided security net would only deepen their losses.

“Our proposal for compensation is fair and minimalist, which brings into consideration the other needs for public funds.”

The association is demanding 5 percent compensation for all businesses that have lost over 25% of revenue in March-April, and 10% compensation for businesses that lost over 50% of revenue; grants to business owners for each employee brought back from unpaid leave; increased government backing for loans to businesses.

The head of the National Labor Federation in Israel, Yoav Simchi, criticized large business owners, saying they were using their employees, many of which remain on unpaid leave, as “hostages” in their fight against the government.

Channel 12 also reported, meanwhile, that many representatives of business owners throughout the country were criticizing reopening the economy without providing solutions to parents whose children remain at home.

Preschools and elementary schools are expected to partially reopen in early May.

Read: The full new regulations released Friday

Channel 12 also reported that the government has decided on a new measure by which decisions will be made on whether to continue easing restrictions or tighten limitations on the public and the economy, amid widespread criticism of a confused decision-making process.

People shop for food at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem on April 24, 2020 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The report said any of the following conditions will likely result in increased restrictions, while remaining below the thresholds will promise continued relief: Over 300 new sick people per day (numbers have hovered between 200-300 in recent days, though they did pass 500 on Wednesday, possibly due to a backlog of tests); over 300 seriously ill patients (currently 130 are in serious condition); a doubling of the national number of sick every 10 days or less (currently cases are doubling every 20 days).

Hairdressers and beauty salons were permitted to resume operations from midnight Saturday, if hygiene regulations related to the virus are adhered to. In addition, restaurants and food shops are now allowed to sell products for takeaway, not just home deliveries, if a physical barrier is placed between the cashier and the customers.

The problems faced by small eateries were recently given a face by falafel store owner Yuval Carmi, whose tearful account of being unable to provide for his family as he couldn’t sell food for takeaway, moved the nation this week.

However, the restriction barring the general public from traveling more than 100 meters from their homes (unless for work, shopping or other essential purposes) or more than 500 meters for exercising or prayers will remain in effect until after Independence Day, which ends Wednesday evening.

Additionally, the various fines for violating the guidelines have been doubled, from NIS 500 to NIS 1,000 and from NIS 1,000 to NIS 2,000.

The rules on wearing a mask have also changed with the minimum age limit raised from six to seven, and with fines of NIS 200 to now be given without an initial warning.

The stricter new regulations for masks are reportedly the result of a video conference call Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had Friday morning with a group of world leaders, including Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who told him that having mandatory masks works, Channel 12 news reported.

The easing of commerce restrictions came after public confusion and anger over the decision-making process on which businesses can and cannot currently open.

Anger rose particularly on Wednesday as IKEA reopened its furniture stores in accordance with government rules, drawing in large crowds, while many other shops remained shuttered. Lottery booths throughout the country also reopened, Channel 12 reported, with the Finance Ministry saying they met the standards.

Critics pointed to the matter as a symbol of the government’s seemingly inconsistent regulations and attitudes toward different businesses.

Customers try maintain a safe distance from each other as they wait in line to enter an IKEA outlet in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya on April 22, 2020, after authorities eased down some of the measures that have been in place during the novel conronavirus pandemic crisis. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The government has faced pressure to accelerate reopening the economy, though officials have expressed fears that the virus could easily rebound and warned that tighter restrictions could yet be put back in place.

Small business owners have been pushing for the government to allow them to reopen, citing weeks of lost income.

On Friday, the government approved an NIS 8 billion ($2.27 billion) plan to increase support for self-employed Israelis and small business owners who have been hit hard by the coronavirus, following accusations that Israel wasn’t helping businesses forced to shut down.

Meanwhile workplaces in the industry, production and services sectors are allowed to have 30 percent of their employees come to work, or 10 workers at the same time at the same workplace — whichever is higher.

The cabinet on Wednesday voted in favor of severely limiting commemorations and celebrations of Israel’s independence and memorial days and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in the latest bid to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Over Ramadan, which began Thursday, all stores in towns with majority Muslim populations, aside from pharmacies, will be closed to the public from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. to discourage people from congregating during the holy month in which Muslims traditionally fast during the day and enjoy joint meals at night (though stores will be able to operate deliveries during those hours).

On Memorial Day, which begins Monday night and ends Tuesday evening, people will be barred from visiting military cemeteries and memorial sites. Intercity travel will be prohibited with the exception of people going to work and shopping in permitted stores. On Independence Day, which begins Tuesday evening and ends Wednesday evening, a general curfew will be in effect requiring people to remain within 100 meters of their homes — except for medicinal needs — and banning intercity travel, similar to the curfew earlier this month for Passover. Supermarkets will not be open to the public.

The Independence Day curfew will begin at 5 p.m. on April 28 and end at 8 p.m. the next day.

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