Israel to resume train services next week, cultural venues also reopening

Ministers approve eased restrictions as 288 new virus cases reported; three coronavirus hotspots declared ‘restricted zones’

Train station staff and workers are seen receiving training instructions at Yitzhak Navon train station in Jerusalem, before a possible reopening order from the government on May 14, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Train station staff and workers are seen receiving training instructions at Yitzhak Navon train station in Jerusalem, before a possible reopening order from the government on May 14, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Cabinet ministers on Wednesday approved the resumption of train operations next week, as the Health Ministry reported another jump in new coronavirus cases.

“The coronavirus cabinet determined train operations will be renewed next week in accordance with the restrictions and guidelines that will be detailed to the public by the Transportation Minister and Israel Railways,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Trains will begin running again on Monday. Trains have been halted for three months and the date for resuming service has been postponed several times.

The so-called coronavirus cabinet also approved the reopening of cultural venues, which could be permitted to open as soon as the weekend.

Events will initially be capped at 250 attendees, the same as for religious ceremonies such as weddings, though Culture Minister Chili Tropper is reportedly pushing to allow up to 500 people.

In remarks at the start of the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he hoped to formulate a plan for the cultural venues’ reopening within 24 hours, with Health Ministry restrictions.

Ahead of the meeting, Netanyahu met with artists and cultural figures who have been protesting the continued restrictions on their industries.

“I very much want to listen to you and I very much want to help you,” Netanyahu said, according to a statement from his office. “I know there’s a crisis, we want to deal with the crisis, and that’s why I also asked the finance minister to join us. We’ll hear from you and we will help, to the best of our ability.”

Some 5,000 Israelis who work in the culture and arts industry protest outside the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, calling for financial support from the Israeli government on June 15, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While most industries have been able to get back to work in recent weeks, large gatherings, particularly in closed spaces, were still banned. This has left theaters, concert halls and other venues shuttered and kept artists, producers and support staff out of work.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Wednesday that his office backed reopening the trains and cultural venues, but warned the public they will both be shut down if rules are not kept.

“If there is no public discipline in accordance with the Health Ministry rules… we will close the train and cultural centers on the very same day,” he tweeted Wednesday evening.

As the coronavirus cabinet convened, the Health Ministry announced 288 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the number of infections in Israel since the start of the pandemic to 19,783.

Of the 3,993 active cases, 36 people were in serious condition, including 29 on ventilators. Another 45 people were in moderate condition and the rest had mild symptoms.

There were no new fatalities, with the death toll remaining at 302.

The ministry also said 15,970 tests were performed Tuesday.

On Wednesday morning, the Health Ministry reported 299 new infections over the previous day, the largest rise in a 24-hour period in nearly two months.

People shop for food at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem on June 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier Wednesday, Hebrew media reports said ministers decided to declare three areas with high infection rates as “restricted zones.”

The three were named as Arara and Rahat, both Bedouin communities in the southern Negev desert, and Jaffa’s Ajami neighborhood.

Schools will be closed in those areas, gatherings of more than 10 people will be banned and entry and exit from them will be restricted, the reports said.

There was no immediate confirmation from the government.

According to Health Ministry figures released Tuesday, Arara has the highest infection rate in Israel and recorded 32 new virus cases in the preceding days. Rahat has the third-highest infection rate in the country while Tel Aviv-Jaffa has seen a recent spike in new cases.

Since lockdown restrictions were eased due to a sustained drop in new cases, virus cases have steadily climbed.

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