Israel could delay switching to daylight saving time to discourage public traffic in the streets in the evening hours and promote social distancing, as part of the fight against the coronavirus, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said Sunday.
Currently, clocks are planned to spring forward later this week, on the night between March 26 and March 27.
However, authorities fear that having the sun set an hour later would increase the number of people venturing outside their homes at a time when Israelis are being encouraged to stay indoors as much as possible.
In a statement, Deri said the move had been weighed for several days and was green-lighted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“A few days ago, I initiated delaying daylight saving time to prevent kids and the elderly from wandering outside during additional daylight hours, thus scaling back public life,” Deri said.
“We are going to legislate emergency regulations to delay switching to daylight saving time until May 1,” he said, adding that his office was coordinating with the Justice Ministry to draft and approve the measure.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit gave his approval to the measure.
The move was first announced earlier Sunday evening by Health Minister Yaakov Litzman in an interview with Channel 12 news.
Police earlier on Sunday shut down two of Israel’s most popular open air markets, as authorities began to enforce strict new measures put in place to stem to spread of the deadly coronavirus.
At the same time, reports indicated that police will not act to close down some religious ceremonies with up to 20 people, twice the permitted number, and will not take action against individuals who venture outside their homes, despite strict rules forbidding going out except under certain circumstances.
The new directives went into effect Sunday morning, vesting police with power to enforce orders, though no actual mechanism to punish or prosecute rule-breakers. The rules, which allow “essential” services to remain open, have sown confusion among business owners and individuals regarding what was permitted.
Israel’s first fatality in the coronavirus pandemic, 88-year-old Holocaust survivor Aryeh Even, was laid to rest in Jerusalem, overnight Saturday. The funeral service at the Givat Shaul cemetery was attended by 20 mourners, and all were required to stand at a two-meter (6.5 ft) distance from one another, according to Channel 12 news.
The new guidelines indicate that police will not take action against individual rule-breakers who leave their homes, but rather those who congregate in groups. Only those breaking quarantine or refusing to disperse a group of over 10 people, with the exception of weddings and funerals, could face punishment.
According to the rules, Israelis must remain at home, with exceptions made for buying essential food and medical supplies or seeking medical treatment. Other exceptions include attending demonstrations, aiding an elderly or ill person, blood donations, attending court hearings, seeking aid from welfare services, going to the Knesset, and attending religious services, including weddings and funerals or visiting a ritual bath (mikveh).
Israelis were permitted to exercise outdoors, with no more than two people together, and to venture out for short walks near their homes. The ban also limited the number of people who could drive in a car to two, unless they were members of the same household (this does not apply to “essential” errands, carpools of essential workers to and from work, and delivery services).
As of Sunday morning there were 945 people diagnosed with coronavirus in Israel. The Health Ministry said 20 people were in serious condition, 24 people were listed in moderate condition and the rest had mild symptoms.