Independence Day curfew ends as Israel moves toward easing more restrictions

With holiday over, stores allowed to reopen, ban on intercity travel expires; 500-meter limit on exercise to be lifted Thursday morning, while some schools set to reopen Sunday

An Israeli flag is seen flying at sunset in the coastal city of Netanya on April 29, 2020, during Israel's 72nd Independence Day. (Jack Guez/AFP)
An Israeli flag is seen flying at sunset in the coastal city of Netanya on April 29, 2020, during Israel's 72nd Independence Day. (Jack Guez/AFP)

A nationwide curfew ended Wednesday evening as Israel’s 72nd Independence Day came to a close, with further restrictions aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus set to be eased in the coming days.

At 8 p.m., grocery stores and other businesses required to close over the holiday were allowed to reopen, while a ban on intercity travel expired.

The travel ban had taken effect Monday evening ahead of Memorial Day, but was only strictly enforced for Independence Day on Tuesday night and Wednesday.

During the curfew, Israelis were prohibited from venturing more than 100 meters from their homes unless for medical reasons and supermarkets were ordered to close, as authorities attempted to avoid the large parties, picnics and outings normally associated with the holiday.

Police handed out nearly 1,400 fines over the holiday for violations of the curfew, according to Channel 12 news, and officers patrolled beaches and other open areas — where Israelis traditionally hold barbecues and other festivities for Independence Day — to prevent any gatherings.

With authorities looking to prevent large gatherings where the virus could spread, many cities cancelled their fireworks shows and the Israeli military’s annual cross-country flyover was held in a limited format that featured a squadron of four stunt planes flying over hospitals in a salute to medical workers.

Other events affected by the curfew included the official torch-lighting ceremony at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, which was prerecorded and held without an audience, and the International Bible Quiz, which required competitors from abroad to participate by video link and was also held without an audience.

Chef Ilan Grossi hand out free meat kababs to Israelis outside his home in Jerusalem during Israel’s 72nd Independence Day on April 29, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While Israelis could return to their pre-Memorial and Independence Day routines Wednesday evening, the planned lifting of further restrictions in the coming days was set to move Israel closer toward a full reopening.

Starting Thursday at 8 a.m., the 500-meter limitation on the distance from home that Israelis can exercise will be lifted, with no further restrictions on physical activity in place. However, group exercise is still banned.

Most stores will also be allowed to reopen, though leisure venues and eateries will continue to remain as closed, as will all shops in malls except for supermarkets and pharmacies.

Beginning Sunday, some students are set to return to school, though final approval depends on the findings of research on infection rates among children that will be presented to government ministers later this week.

Tentative approval has also been given for the reopening of guest houses and some hotels next week and open-air markets could also soon be given permission to reopen.

Most social distancing directives will still remain in place, including a requirement to wear a face mask in public and maintain distance from other people. In general, people have been told to remain within 100 meters of their home unless there is a need to leave.

Playgrounds will remain shut and only those living within 100 meters of a public park or beaches will be allowed to visit those places.

Religious events will continue to be limited in size and must be held outside.

A man wearing a face mask exercises in the Saker Park in Jerusalem, on March 25, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Last week, the Health Ministry defined new parameters on which to base its decisions regarding the easing or tightening of restrictions on the public and the economy, amid widespread criticism of a confused decision-making process.

These include the number of new daily sick remaining below 300 and the number of seriously ill also staying under that number.

The average number of new infections in recent days has been well below 300 and on Wednesday the number of people to recover from the virus passed the number of active cases for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

There have so far been 15,782 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Israel and 212 deaths.

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