In fresh virus lockdown, restaurants, gyms to close from Friday, gatherings cut
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Note: Full text of official guidelines is at end of article

In fresh virus lockdown, restaurants, gyms to close from Friday, gatherings cut

Cabinet announces mix of new restrictions starting 5 p.m.; non-essential stores to close on weekends; PM and Gantz to decide fate of schools; full weekend lockdown set from July 24

A group of ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth wear protective face masks following government measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, as they walk in Jerusalem's Old City, July 16, 2020. (AP/Oded Balilty)
A group of ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth wear protective face masks following government measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, as they walk in Jerusalem's Old City, July 16, 2020. (AP/Oded Balilty)

Cabinet ministers decided in the early hours of Friday morning to impose new lockdown measures as virus cases in Israel surged to record highs.

Under the new, complex rules — the full official text appears at the bottom of this article — restaurants, gyms and fitness studios will close at 5 p.m. on Friday until further notice. Restaurants will be available for takeout and delivery, and gyms used by professional athletes will be allowed to operate.

Gatherings of over 10 people indoors, and 20 outdoors, will also be forbidden until further notice as of Friday at 5 p.m., but work groups and nuclear families will be exempt.

Restaurants in hotels will be limited to 35 percent capacity and hotel pools will remain open.

Government offices will be limited to 50% capacity and will be closed to the public, except for online services, until further notice. Cafeterias at work places will be closed, except for takeout.

On weekends from now until further notice, shops will close, but stores offering essential services, such as pharmacies and supermarkets, will be allowed to remain open.

Malls, markets, barbers, hairdressers, beauty parlors, libraries, zoos, museums, exhibition spaces, pools and tourist sites will also be closed on weekends.

The weekend restrictions will take effect at 5 p.m. on Friday, and be lifted at 5 a.m. on Sunday.

This weekend, there are no new restrictions on movement and beaches will remain open, subject to social distancing. But a tighter weekend lockdown is likely to take effect from Friday, July 24, including restrictions on movement. As of July 24, too, beaches are set be closed on weekends.

The joint statement from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry did not specify whether the restrictions on gatherings will also apply to religious services, but ultra-Orthodox news sites said attendance at synagogues will be limited to 10 people and outdoor prayer gatherings will be capped at 20 worshippers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz will decide over the weekend whether to close educational institutions. Shutting down the education system would close kindergartens, summer camps and summer schools.

The restrictions were reportedly made with the support of National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, whose agency has led the effort to combat the virus. The announcement came after lengthy discussions that lasted over six hours.

“Within three weeks we’ll be at 1,600 in serious condition if we continue down this path without new restrictions,” Netanyahu warned at the start of the cabinet meeting. “If we don’t flatten the curve, we’re putting many Israelis in danger.”

“The alternative to the steps we [want to] take today is significantly more difficult steps tomorrow, which we are trying to avoid,” Netanyahu said. He added that the proposals brought before ministers “are mainly aimed at stopping gatherings.”

Netanyahu on Thursday asked Knesset Law Committee Chairman MK Ya’akov Asher to prepare legislation to be voted on next week that would grant the government the authority to declare full lockdowns on weekends.

Under current rules, the cabinet has the power to immediately impose new restrictions, after which the Knesset has a week to decide whether to approve or rescind them.

People wearing protective face masks pass a billboard in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, July 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

One of the main points of contention at Thursday’s meeting was the fate of the education system. Education Minister Yoav Gallant opposed closing schools, arguing that the data on the virus spread did not back up the decision.

Likud’s Ofir Akunis, Gila Gamliel and Ze’ev Elkin also opposed shuttering schools, Ynet reported.

According to Channel 12 news, Health Ministry officials told cabinet ministers that Israel could see 20 coronavirus deaths a day next month if the rate of new infections isn’t curbed.

Meanwhile, Gantz has proposed that lockdowns be imposed on week nights as a means to improve social distancing while minimally impacting the economy, Channel 12 said. It was not clear whether he was proposing the measure instead of weekend lockdowns or in addition.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn insisted on Thursday he would ensure that any restrictions don’t limit political protests, amid recent demonstrations against the government’s coronavirus policies as well as rallies against Netanyahu’s continued rule.

Demonstrators protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, on July 16, 2020. Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel confirmed a record 1,939 new cases in 24 hours on Thursday evening.

As of Thursday night, there were 25,305 active cases in Israel. Among those currently sick, 202 were in serious condition, including 58 on ventilators. Another 110 people were in moderate condition and the rest had mild symptoms or were asymptomatic.

Five people died of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the death toll to 384.

Of the 46,059 people to test positive for the coronavirus in Israel since the start of the pandemic, 20,370 have recovered. The ministry also said 30,509 tests were performed on Wednesday.

A leading Israeli doctor told The Times of Israel on Thursday that weekend lockdowns could do more harm than good by forcing people indoors, where the virus spreads more easily.

Israel was initially seen as a success story after clamping down on the virus by imposing a strict lockdown in March and April, but saw the pandemic surge to unprecedented levels after reopening schools and rescinding almost all restrictions.

Experts have blamed a too-speedy reopening and the lack of an effective contact tracing program as main factors in the virus running riot.

Full official text of the Joint Prime Minister’s Office-Health Ministry Statement

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, yesterday evening (Thursday, 16 July 2020), convened the Cabinet to discuss and decide on interim steps to prevent a general lockdown in light of the sharp increase in the morbidity of the coronavirus.

The Cabinet decided on the following restrictions – which were approved as an order to amend and uphold the validity of “Emergency Regulations (Restricted Activity) — on the recommendation of the Health Ministry and the National Security Council:

The order takes effect at 17:00 today (Friday, 17 July 2020). Pending Knesset approval, and pursuant to law, the restrictions will take effect today as per the above.

General restrictions (seven days a week, effective at 17:00 today, Friday):

* Closure of gyms and studios for exercise or dance, except for use by competitive athletes, as defined in the order.

* Restaurants and eateries – takeaway and delivery only, no on-site seating.

* Restaurants and eateries in hotels – The number of people present will be limited to 35% of the maximum number allowed in order to permit the continued operation of the hotel.

Weekend restrictions (to take effect from 17:00 on Fridays until 05:00 on Sunday)

* There will be no restriction on leaving one’s home.

* During the weekend, being on beaches shall be prohibited (except for this weekend, 17-18 July, when beaches shall remain open).

* During the weekend, stores, malls, open-air markets, hair salons/barbershops, beauty parlors, libraries, petting zoos, museums and display spaces, pools, tourist attractions and cable cars shall be closed.

This restriction shall not apply to stores providing essential services: Places for the sale of food, pharmacies and stores most business of which is the sale of hygiene products, opticians and labs for the repair of communications devices.

This restriction shall not apply to swimming pools at hotels that are designated for hotel guests only in order to allow hotels to provide the main ancillary services to their guests, during weekends as well).

In addition to the Cabinet decision and pursuant to the policy of reducing gatherings, the following actions were agreed on:

1. The Health Ministry Director General will sign an order prohibiting gatherings that will allow up to 10 people to meet in closed areas and up to 20 people in open areas (except places of work and nuclear families). This will take effect at 17:00 today (Friday, 17 July).

2. The Cabinet authorized the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister / Alternate Prime Minister – following consultation with the ministers of Finance, Health and Education – to decide regarding restrictions on the education system. The decisions, upon being made, will be issued to the public.

3. Reduction of reception at government ministries – transition to online services (subject to legislative changes where appropriate).

4. Government ministries: Reduction to 50% presence in ministries – responsibility of the Civil Service Commissioner and the Finance Ministry Wages Director.

5. Closure of dining rooms at places of work – takeaway service only.

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Violation of any of the above restrictions shall constitute a criminal offense.

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