Despite a recent spike in the number of coronavirus cases and fears of a second wave of infections, cabinet ministers on Friday approved events of up to 250 people for weddings and religious ceremonies such as circumcisions and bar and bat mitzvahs.
According to a joint statement from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry, event halls must allocate at least two square meters to each guest. The cap on the number of guests does not include employees of the event hall.
The statement said that venue owners will be required to maintain a list of the names and phone numbers of all guests for 20 days after the event so that, in case of infections, the government can conduct an epidemiological investigation.
Other events are still capped at 50 participants and have to take place in an open area, the statement said.
The Health Ministry on Friday morning said there had been 132 new cases of the virus confirmed since the previous evening, when Israel had recorded more than 200 new infections in a day for the first time since late April, before it began easing restrictions.
Of those sick, 34 were in serious condition, including 24 on ventilators. Another 39 people were in moderate condition and the rest had mild symptoms. There were no new fatalities, with the death toll remaining at 300.
In a press conference at his office in Jerusalem Thursday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that sweeping measures meant to contain the virus could be reimposed if the recent spike in fresh cases continues.
He said the government’s focus was limiting the spread of the virus while allowing economic activity.
Though there are numerous signs that the economy was picking up again, “the problem still isn’t solved,” according to Netanyahu. “The good news is that the Israeli economy is recovering.”
Turning to the rise in COVID-19 cases, Netanyahu said the current pace of new infections was similar to that at the start of the pandemic.
“We’re in a place where the steep rise began that brought us the risk of seriously sick patients and people dying,” he said. “We must stop this spike on time.”
“If this continues, we’ll have to bring back the restrictions,” Netanyahu added, without elaborating.
He repeated his call for Israelis to wear masks, maintain distance from another and wash their hands. “The virus only respects those who respect the rules,” he said.
Speaking after Netanyahu, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said that though there was a “continuous rise in infection,” he was not in favor of ordering fresh closures of businesses.
While he backed further reopenings, Edelstein said they would have to wait unless Israel improves its testing system and the public adheres to social distancing guidelines.
“The first matter is on me, under the responsibility of the Health Ministry,” he said.
Health officials have attributed much of the recent rise in new cases to schools, which reopened in May after a two-month closure.
According to the Education Ministry, 460 students and teachers have tested positive for the virus, with another 25,517 in quarantine.
It said 165 schools have been closed due to infections.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu ordered stepped-up enforcement of social distancing rules, including giving city officials the power to join police in enforcing mask-wearing and rules against large gatherings.
A day earlier, the government decided to freeze plans for a further easing of restrictions that would have allowed trains, cinemas and arts venues to open.
Amid the jump in cases, police were stepping up enforcement against Israelis failing to wear masks in public, handing out hundreds of fines on Wednesday. The number of mask fines distributed on Wednesday, 381, was four times higher than on any day last week, according to Channel 12. The fine for not wearing a mask in public is NIS 200 ($60).
Police have also fined more businesses that failed to heed the emergency rules. Fines for businesses range from NIS 2,000 to NIS 5,000 ($580-$1,450).