Government set to meet on approving rollback of virus restrictions
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Poll: 56% of public supports unity deal, only 38% think PM will honor rotation

Channel 12 survey finds that 67% of Likud voters support union, while 43% of Blue and White voters back move; over half say Gantz gave up more than Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a memorial ceremony marking 24 years since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the Knesset, November 10, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a memorial ceremony marking 24 years since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the Knesset, November 10, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Friday’s events as they unfolded.

Government set to meet on approving rollback of virus restrictions

A government meeting is scheduled for 8 a.m., when ministers are expected to decide which coronavirus restrictions will be lifted on Sunday as the Israeli economy continues to reopen.

Hebrew-language media reports that the education system and open-air markets will likely not resume operations at this time.

The Finance Ministry and the Health Ministry, which have clashed repeatedly on the matter, are reportedly expected to agree on opening more stores, hairdresser salons — with mask and rubber glove requirements — and returning the takeaway option in food stores.

IDF intelligence said to estimate coronavirus crisis will last until end of 2021

The IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate is estimating that the Middle East will have to deal with the coronavirus until the end of 2021, according to journalist Ben Caspit of the Maariv daily.

He says the directorate has been intensely analyzing the virus crisis, trying to assess trends that will affect the region in the foreseeable future.

US House approves new $483 billion coronavirus stimulus bill

The US House of Representatives has voted to add another nearly half-trillion dollars to efforts to stimulate an economy ravaged by the coronavirus shutdown.

The $483 billion bill, already approved by the Senate and expected to be signed quickly by US President Donald Trump, will replenish funds to support small businesses, finance hospitals and expand COVID-19 testing.

— AFP

Blue and White, Labor sign coalition deal; Peretz to be economy minister

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz and Labor chief Amir Peretz have signed a coalition deal, according to Hebrew-language media.

The agreement will see Peretz serve as economy and industry minister in the new unity government, while fellow Labor MK Itzik Shmuli will be welfare minister.

Peretz will be a member of the decision-making security cabinet, and Shmuli will be a member of the ministerial committee for legislation.

A third Labor member, Merav Michaeli, has refused to join the coalition.

State prosecutors send rare public letter of criticism to their boss over spat with AG

Senior members of the State Prosecutor’s Office have reportedly sent a rare public letter to acting state attorney Dan Eldad, lambasting him over an unprecedented war of words he had yesterday with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

“We are horrified by your conduct, which has no place in an organization with values of integrity, honesty and lawfullness,” write the officials, which include Mandelblit’s and Eldad’s deputies and district prosecutors.

“We have decided to set a precedent and make our voice heard in light of Eldad’s conduct and embarrassing statement.”

Eldad was appointed to the position for a temporary three-month period in February by interim Justice Minister Amir Ohana, a loyalist of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after former state attorney Shai Nitzan concluded his five-year term in December and after Ohana’s previous candidate was rejected by Mandelblit.

Mandelblit also initially opposed Eldad’s appointment, which Ohana made in spite of his reservations, but eventually agreed to it.

Coronavirus cases up to 14,882, with 193 dead — Health Ministry

The Health Ministry updates the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country to 14,882, which is 79 more than last night’s tally.

The death toll is now 193, up by one — Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Heber, 55, whose kidney donation organization saved 800 people over the past decade. He has been mourned by many senior public officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.

The ministry figures say 139 Israelis are in serious condition, of whom 107 are on ventilators, and 101 are in moderate condition. The remainder are displaying mild or no symptoms.

5,685 Israelis have recovered from COVID-19, a number which is included in the tally of total cases.

Rivlin mourns rabbi who founded kidney donation initiative: ‘Man of pure kindness’

President Reuven Rivlin mourns Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Heber, whose kidney donation organization “Matnat Chaim” [“Gift of life”] facilitated 800 transplants over the past decade and who died last night of the coronavirus.

“The heart bleeds,” Rivlin tweets, at the loss of “a man of pure kindness, who connected the whole of Israeli society.”

“The rabbi’s life work was outstanding,” he adds. “Together with the many people he saved, and the entire nation, I want to send strength to the family and to believe that Heber’s ‘gift of life’ will continue to gift life after his passing as well.”

Government approves NIS 8 billion plan to help small businesses, self-employed

The government approves an NIS 8 billion ($2.27 billion) plan to increase support for self-employed Israelis and small business owners who have been hit hard by the coronavirus.

The plan includes a grant of up to NIS 400,000 per business, depending on the degree to which its activities have been curtailed, the Finance Ministry says in a statement.

It also includes a second stipend for self-employed workers, equalling 70% of their regular income up to a maximum amount of NIS 10,500.

Surfers at Tel Aviv beaches fined by police for violating virus rules

Police hand fines to dozens of surfers who went to beaches in Tel Aviv and Herzliya despite instructions not to go more than 100 meters away from home for non-essential purposes.

One of them refused to get out of the water, fought with the cops and was subsequently arrested, police say in a statement.

Netanyahu in video conference with world leaders about reopening schools

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly taking part in a video conference call with world leaders about strategies for reopening education systems, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The call was reportedly initiated by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and is also attended by the leaders of Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, Greece and the Czech Republic, according to the report.

Health Ministry said to agree to also reopen beauty salons

The Health Ministry has reportedly agreed to also open beauty salons as part of steps to be announced shortly, scaling back some virus restrictions.

The ministry previously opposed reopening beauty salons under restrictions such as wearing face masks and rubber gloves, similar to hairdressers.

Alitalia said set to resume Israel flights on June 1

Italian airline Alitalia has announced that it will resume flights between Rome and Tel Aviv, the Globes website reports.

The Israel flights will be reinstated on June 1, the report says.

An Alitalia plane is seen parked on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport on February 27, 2020, after passengers traveling from Italy were denied entry to Israel. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Palestinian detainee in Israel has virus, is quarantined in Jerusalem facility

A 21-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank who was arrested by Israel and brought to a Jerusalem jail on Wednesday has been confirmed to have the coronavirus.

He has been transferred to a quarantined ward in the detention facility, the Israel Prison Service says.

It adds that the detainee has been alone in his cell for two days and that officials are checking who he came into contact with during his arrest and arrival at the facility.

Staff who were in contact with him will be quarantined.

Hundreds demonstrate in Tel Aviv against new government

Hundreds of people participate in a protest at Tel Aviv’s Dolphinarium against the size of the new government that will be announced in the near future.

The demonstration is organized by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel after a coalition deal says the government will include 32 ministers and then swell to 36, with 16 deputy ministers, as soon as the coronavirus crisis is deemed to have ended, the biggest cabinet in Israel’s history.

The movement’s chairman, Eliad Shraga, says the coalition agreement signed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz “crushes Israel’s regime system.”

The deal “will destroy the Judicial Appointments Committee and the Knesset committees and will directly arm democracy,” he argues.

Government approves guidelines letting most stores reopen

The government approves lifting some restrictions on businesses as it continues to gradually reopen Israel’s economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Stores that aren’t in shopping malls or open-air markets will be allowed to operate, as long as they adhere to guidelines regarding cleanliness, wearing protective gear and enforcing social distancing.

Hairdressers and beauty salons can resume operations from midnight Saturday, and restaurants and food shops can now sell products for takeaway, not just home deliveries, if a barrier is placed between the cashier and the customers.

However, the restriction barring the general public from traveling more than 100 meters from their homes for non-essential purposes or more than 500 meters for exercising or prayers will remain in effect until after Independence Day, which ends next Wednesday evening.

The various fines for violating the guidelines has been doubled, from NIS 500 to NIS 1,000 and from NIS 1,000 to NIS 2,000.

Spain sees 367 new virus deaths, lowest daily toll in a month

Spain saw 367 people die of novel coronavirus over the past 24 hours for the lowest daily number of deaths in four weeks, the government says.

The latest figures are the lowest daily toll since March 22 when 394 deaths were reported. That brings the total fatalities from the pandemic in the country to 22,524, the third-highest number of virus deaths in the world after the United States and Italy.

— AFP

200-shekel fine for first-time offenders caught without a face mask

New guidelines approved by the government and taking effect Saturday midnight will slap a fine now on anyone being caught without having a face mask when in public, including first-time offenders, who previously got away with a warning.

The fine for those over the age of 7 caught in without a mask will be NIS 200 ($55).

Channel 12 reports that the strict new rule is the result of a video conference call Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had this morning with some world leaders, including Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who told him that having mandatory masks works.

Netanyahu urges increased cooperation on virus in call with world leaders

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is calling for increased global cooperation in battling the coronavirus.

Netanyahu took part today in a conference call with several global leaders, urging the sharing of knowledge and ideas.

Among those taking part were Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis. It was chaired by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

Ministers to vote whether to lock down hotspot neighborhoods in Beit Shemesh and Netivot

Ministers will be convening via telephone conference before sundown to vote on whether to enforce Jerusalem and Bnei Brak-like lockdowns over ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Beit Shemesh and Netivot, which have become virus hotspots in recent weeks.

MDA announces that it’ll operate testing sites in evening for Ramadan fasters

The Magen David Adom emergency service announces that it will begin operating its drive-through testing sites in Muslim communities in the evening hours in order to accommodate those fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, which began earlier this week.

Watch: Police send dozens of troops to detain surfer who refused to leave water

Footage of dozens of police officers, some on a motor boat, swarming around and detaining a lone surfer near Tel Aviv’s Hilton Beach who allegedly refused to evacuate the water goes viral, leading some viewers wondering whether the amount of manpower utilized was proportional to the alleged crime.

Government guidelines allow individuals to carry out sporting activity up to 500 meters from their homes, but the beaches have remained closed.

Footage shows Border cop fought off ramming attacker after losing rifle magazine

Footage released by Border Police shows that the officer who was rammed and stabbed in an attack earlier this week at the “Kiyosk” checkpoint near the Ma’ale Adumim settlement managed to fight off the assailant even after losing his weapon magazine from the blow of the car.

The officer had come under criticism from some who had argued that he should have shot the attacker instead of seeking to initiate further contact. The footage shows why he chose to do so.

 

Four special ops soldiers ordered into quarantine after arresting COVID-carrying Palestinian

Four soldiers from the Duvdevan reconnaissance unit have gone into quarantine after arresting a Palestinian suspect who tested positive for the coronavirus, Army Radio reports.

China to give WHO $30 million more after US freezes funds

China announces it will give another $30 million to the World Health Organization to help in the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic, days after Washington said it would freeze funding.

The US, which is the WHO’s biggest contributor, accused the organization last week of “mismanaging” the COVID-19 crisis, drawing ire from Beijing as both countries spar over the deadly virus.

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang says the new donation would be in addition to a previous $20 million committed, and would help “strengthen developing countries’ health systems.”

He adds that China’s contribution to the UN agency “reflects the support and trust of the Chinese government and people for the WHO.”

In announcing the funding freeze last week, US President Donald Trump accused the WHO of covering up the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak in China before it spread.

He has also charged the WHO with being “very China-centric” despite Washington’s heavy funding.

According to Trump, US taxpayers provided between $400 million and $500 million per year to the WHO, while “in contrast, China contributes roughly $40 million a year and even less.”

Trump also claimed the outbreak could have been contained with “very little death” had the WHO assessed the situation in China accurately.

The deadly virus, which has claimed more than 181,000 lives worldwide, first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, which was locked down in late January to curb the spread.

It continued its global march, however, with cases reported in 193 countries and territories to date, ravaging economies around the globe.

Beijing has urged the US to support WHO-led international action against the pandemic after it halted funding, while observers warned that the US freeze would have consequences for the WHO’s other disease control programmes around the world.

AFP

Iran claims it’s no longer at ‘red’ status, reports 93 new virus deaths

Iran’s health ministry claims that the virus-hit country is no longer at “red” status as it announces another 93 deaths from its COVID-19 outbreak.

Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour says the novel coronavirus fatalities recorded in the past 24 hours took Iran’s overall death toll to 5,574.

Jahanpour also announces 1,168 new cases of coronavirus infection, taking the country’s total to 88,194.

But he says that 66,596 patients had been released from hospital after recovering from the illness.

“None of our provinces are in the red, but warnings remain, and the situation will not be considered normal at all,” he tweets.

The actual numbers of those killed and sickened by the virus are widely thought to be much higher than the Iranian government’s official tolls.

Iran has been struggling to contain the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease since revealing its first cases more than two months ago.

The first cases it announced on February 19 were deaths in the Shiite holy city of Qom, south of the capital.

The outbreak was quick to spread to all of the country’s 31 provinces.

Despite still battling the virus, the Iranian government has allowed many businesses to reopen since April 11 after shutting most down in mid-March to prevent the spread of the disease.

— AFP

Ministers approve closures for hotspot neighborhoods in Beit Shemesh, Netivot

Ministers have approved via telephone conference the enforcement of Jerusalem and Bnei Brak-like lockdowns for ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Beit Shemesh and Netivot, which have become coronavirus hotspots in recent weeks.

The shutdowns will go into effect on Sunday morning at 6 a.m. and will extend for five days.

Beit Shemesh, with its population of 120,000, is the city with the fourth most virus cases in the country (392 as of Thursday), trailing only the far larger cities of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Bnei Brak.

Netivot, with a population of 36,000, has 82 confirmed cases as of Thursday, a number completely disproportional to other cities of such size. The only towns with a smaller population that have more cases than Netivot are Migdal Ha’Emek, Deir al-Assad and Or Yehuda.

For 2nd time in days, Palestinians accuse settlers of damaging crops

For the second time in three days, the Yesh Din rights group reports that Palestinian farmers arrived at their crops to find them damaged, allegedly by neighboring settlers.

Today’s incident took place in As-Sawiya near Nablus where some 35 olive trees and saplings were destroyed.

A similar report was publicized by Yesh Din on Wednesday when Palestinian farmers arrived at their crops in the nearby Kafr Qaddum and found a similar number of trees destroyed.

“Over the past two weeks, in the midst of the plowing season, we have heard numerous reports from Palestinian farmers about the destruction, of their olive trees in private plots across the West Bank,” says Yesh Din CEO Lior Amichai in a statement.

“These acts are extremely disturbing and many farmers who are prevented from reaching their lands throughout the year and who only now are being allowed access in coordination with the army, are being exposed to the severe damage for the first time,” he adds. “The decision by Israeli authorities to turn a blind eye and even passively approve such crimes is what allows the rioters to repeatedly damage Palestinians and their property [without consequences].”

Britain reports nearly 20,000 deaths from virus

LONDON — The British government says 684 more people with the coronavirus have died in UK hospitals, increasing the total reported to 19,506.

That’s higher than 616 deaths in the previous 24-hour period. There has been increasing scrutiny of the UK figures for understating the actual number of coronavirus-related deaths because they don’t include deaths in care homes or elsewhere in the community.

The UK’s death toll is the fourth highest in Europe, behind Italy, Spain and France, all of whom have reported more than 20,000 deaths.

The government also says the number of daily tests increased by around 5,000 to 28,532.

Earlier today, an online link to an expanded testing program for essential workers stopped accepting applications after a few hours because of “significant demand.”

— AP

US coronavirus toll exceeds 50,000

The US death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has just surpassed 50,000, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University.

According to the tracker, 50,031 people have now died in the US from COVID-19 since the start of the global health crisis, with more than 870,000 confirmed cases.

— AFP

Strong winds from Sinai bring yellow skies to southern Israel

Israel’s southern residents report that the skies have yellowed due to strong winds coming from the Sinai Desert in Egypt, bringing with it high concentrations of airborne particles, the Environmental Protection Ministry says.

The ministry says an improvement in air quality can be expected later Friday evening.

State report finds nearly 40% of virus deaths have been nursing home patients

A report compiled by the state-sponsored authority over the government’s coronavirus response in nursing homes reveals that 72 of the 193 deaths (38% of them) have been nursing home patients, Channel 12 says.

The report says that 97 nursing homes across the country have at least one carrier and that in the past week, 2,000 tests have been carried out in such facilities — far below the goal of 3,000 that health authorities had set initially, Channel 12 says.

FDA warns of risks with Trump-promoted malaria drug

The US Food and Drug Administration is warning doctors against prescribing a malaria drug widely touted by US President Donald Trump for treating the new coronavirus outside of hospitals or research settings.

In an alert Friday, regulators warned of reports of serious side effects and death among patients taking hydroxychloroquine and the related drug chloroquine. The drugs, also approved for lupus, can cause a number of side effects, including dangerous irregular heart rhythms.

— AP

Israeli who knew he had coronavirus boarded United plane with 38 other passengers to Tel Aviv

An Israeli man who knew he had coronavirus boarded a United Airlines flight from Newark to Tel Aviv Thursday night with 38 other passengers on it without notifying the staff, Channel 12 reports.

The flight landed at Ben Gurion Airport Friday morning and the sick passenger was separated from the rest of the group, who was sent to an isolation hotel.

The passengers on UA90 have been informed that they will be tested in the coming days.

Channel 12 survey asks Israelis what they’ll do first when restrictions are lifted

A Channel 12 survey asks Israelis what’s the first thing they’ll do when virus-related restrictions are lifted.

61% say they’ll meet up with family and friends
12% say they’ll get a haircut
7% say they’ll fly overseas
6% say they’ll go out for a meal
3% say they’ll go to a show or a movie

Report: Bennett spars with Netanyahu over PM’s refusal to reopen schools

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett sparred with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a cabinet meeting earlier today, during which the former tried to push back on the latter’s insistence that it is too early to reopen the school system, Channel 13 reports.

Bennett has argued that daycares along with grades 1-3 should be reopened on Sunday. He threatened to vote against the additional measures approved during the meeting, but Netanyahu called his bluff, responding, “so vote against.”

“Every time we’re told that we’ll be discussing it, we don’t end up doing so. This is a very time-sensitive issue,” Bennett lamented, arguing that parents cannot go back to work if schools aren’t reopened, according to Channel 13.

“We’ll discuss it on Sunday or Monday by the latest. I just don’t think that every time we have a meeting that we’ll be deciding to reopen the education system. Foreign leaders who I’ve spoken to told me that they’re very hesitant on this matter because it is so sensitive,” Netanyahu responded.

Ultimately, Bennett voted in favor of the restriction measures passed by the cabinet, Channel 13 reports.

Blue and White said to speculate that Trump will bar Netanyahu from W. Bank annexation

Based on conversations with US officials, the growing speculation in the Blue and White party is that US President Donald Trump’s administration will ultimately decide against backing Israeli moves to annex the West Bank, Channel 13 reports.

Washington has largely given its blessing to Israel’s annexation efforts, saying it would rescind its veto once a government has been formed and a joint US-Israel mapping team has completed its efforts to determine exactly which West Bank land Israel will be allowed annex. Their work has been hindered due to the coronavirus, though the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office told the Makor Rishon newspaper that the pandemic has not forced a total cessation of efforts.

Still, some analysts speculate that Washington may be more hesitant to allow such a far-reaching move to go forward just months before the November presidential election.

Health chief: If we’d not acted responsibly, we could have wound up like Belgium

Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, interviewed on Channel 12, says a discussion on when to open schools will be taken next week.

“We’re preparing further eased restrictions,” he says, adding, “we’re well aware of the economic damage” caused by the restrictions imposed to thwart the spread of COVID-19. “But the prime imperative has been to protect the health of the public… Look at what happened in other countries.”

Asked whether the warmer climate has impacted the spread of infection, he says there’s “no indication to that effect” yet, but he hopes it will.

He’s asked about his own prediction, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s prediction, that tens of thousands of Israelis could die from COVID-19, when the current tally is below 200 fatalities and the restrictions are gradually being rolled back.

“We have a very simple check,” he says. “We were at a rate where the number of new people patients was doubling every three days… There was a single day when the number of seriously ill patients rose by 50%.

“If that trend had continued, today we’d have over 600,000 people [sick], over 10,000 on ventilators, and many thousands who would have finished their lives.”

Asked whether that kind of concern has proven exaggerated, he replies: “I don’t think so… There are enough control groups — look at Belgium.” Belgium has a population slightly larger than Israel’s and a death toll approaching 7,000.

Bar Simon-Tov is asked again: “If ordinary life had continued, we would have reached those numbers of dead?”

“I’m not a prophet,” he replies, “but there are enough examples showing that countries that did not act responsibly have had many, many more dead, many, many more on ventilators and the collapse of their health systems… We’ve been following a policy that prevents that.”

Asked about the illogic of allowing IKEA to open, on one hand, and sending swarms of cops to arrest an isolated surfer, he says he knows there have been some such issues, and broadly “we need to ease up” on sports restrictions.

Asked what he’ll do when the latest raft of eased restrictions take effect on Sunday, he says he hopes he’ll have time to get a haircut.

Poll: 56% of public supports unity deal, only 38% think PM will honor rotation

A Channel 12 survey finds that a slight majority of the public — 56 percent — supports the unity coalition agreement inked earlier this week between the Likud and Blue and White parties, while 29% oppose the deal.

Among center-left voters, support for the deal stands at just 43% according to the survey — 24 percentage points lower than the number among center-right voters (67%).

Fifty-two percent of Israelis said that Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz compromised more to form the unity government, while just 17% said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave up more. Among voters who identified as center-left specifically, 72% said Gantz gave more. That figure dropped to 40% among center-right identifying voters.

Only 38% of respondents believe Netanyahu will honor the rotation deal requiring him to vacate the Prime Minister’s Office in 18 months in order for Gantz to take replace him. Forty-five percent of respondents said they do not believe he will do so, while 17% said they were unsure.

Sixty-eight percent of the public said that the government’s decisions vis-à-vis the pandemic have been appropriate, while 15% said they have been insufficient and 14% said they have been too extreme. At the same time, 48% of respondents said that the government’s handling of the pandemic has been “overall good” as opposed to 45% who responded that the handling has been “overall bad.”

Asked what clause in the Likud-Blue and White deal that made them most uncomfortable, 37% said it was the large number of ministers (36), 21% said it was its green-lighting of Netanyahu remaining premier despite the indictments against him, 11% said it was the deal’s allowing of Health Minister Yaakov Litzman to remain in his post, despite immense public criticism and allegations of gross misconduct, 11% said it was its authorization of costly official prime ministerial residences for Netanyahu and Gantz and 10% said they were not bothered by any aspect of the deal.

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Live updates (closed)

Government set to meet on approving rollback of virus restrictions

A government meeting is scheduled for 8 a.m., when ministers are expected to decide which coronavirus restrictions will be lifted on Sunday as the Israeli economy continues to reopen.

Hebrew-language media reports that the education system and open-air markets will likely not resume operations at this time.

The Finance Ministry and the Health Ministry, which have clashed repeatedly on the matter, are reportedly expected to agree on opening more stores, hairdresser salons — with mask and rubber glove requirements — and returning the takeaway option in food stores.