Israel cuts back gatherings to 50 people amid rising COVID-19 cases

Ministers also agree to limit capacity at event halls to 100 in outdoor areas starting July 9, keep cultural events capped at 250; Netanyahu vows to compensate those harmed

Israelis wearing face masks are seen on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israelis wearing face masks are seen on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The government on Monday decided to limit public gatherings and reimpose some restrictions previously employed to stem the outbreak of the coronavirus, after a second wave of infections over the last month has shown no sign of abating.

The so-called coronavirus cabinet, a ministerial panel overseeing Israel’s response to the pandemic, decided to limit public gatherings to 50 people, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

However, the capacity at indoor event halls will be capped at 100 people — down from the current 250 — and the capacity in outdoor areas of event halls will remain unchanged at 250, the statement said. That restriction is in force starting July 9 and will expire July 31 unless extended.

Cultural events will remain capped at 250 people. Funerals and circumcisions will be capped at 50 people, as will prayers at synagogues and other places of worship.

University and college exams will be held remotely, according to the decision, which also requires at least 30 percent of employees in the public sector to work from home.

A meeting of the coronavirus cabinet on Sunday had ended with no decisions amid reported disagreement between ministers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday’s decisions were approved unanimously and pledged that the government would compensate the sectors hurt by the new restrictions.

“The promised money will get to the people, and we will introduce innovative plans to keep our economy moving forward,” Netanyahu said at the opening of his Likud party’s faction meeting, after the coronavirus cabinet meeting ended.

“All the while, we are balancing health and life with preserving the economy,” he said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the government should be thinking a year ahead in its response, rather than weeks ahead. Opening his Blue and White party’s faction meeting, he said he had demanded that the operational response to the outbreak be transferred to his ministry.

“We must agree on a more efficient management of operations and decision-making,” he said. “The regulation from top to bottom should be at the Health Ministry, and the implementation at the Defense Ministry and the Home Front Command, which has the best operational tools.

“Whatever isn’t connected to the battle against the coronavirus will wait for the days after the virus,” he said, seemingly alluding to Netanyahu’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank starting July 1.

People wearing face masks walk in Jerusalem on June 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Monday afternoon recorded 492 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24 hours. According to the Health Ministry, another person has died from the virus, bringing the national toll since the start of the pandemic to 319. There were no immediate details on the latest fatality.

The number of overall cases climbed to 23,989 on Monday, of whom 17,114 have recovered. Of the 6,556 active cases, 46 were in serious condition, with 24 on ventilators. Another 58 were in moderate condition and the rest were displaying mild or no symptoms.

The ministry said 10,138 tests were conducted on Sunday.

The number of active virus cases has soared by over 4,000 since June 1, after the government reopened the economy and schools in May.

Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel was facing a “rising wave” of infections, but the government and senior health officials last week maintained that another nationwide lockdown could still be avoided.

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