Malls, outdoor markets and gyms to reopen Thursday as virus numbers stay flat
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Malls, outdoor markets and gyms to reopen Thursday as virus numbers stay flat

Eased restrictions announced earlier this week set to take effect in the morning; Health Ministry announces one new COVID-19 death

Israelis at the Mamilla Mall near Jerusalem's Old City on May 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israelis at the Mamilla Mall near Jerusalem's Old City on May 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Malls, outdoor markets and gyms were set to reopen Thursday morning, as Israel continued on a path toward normalcy and numbers of daily new cases of the novel coronavirus remained in the low dozens.

Thursday’s openings were announced on Monday as part of a larger raft of eased coronavirus restrictions announced on Monday, most of which have already taken effect.

Infection rates have dropped off significantly in recent days, with the number of new cases over 24-hour periods consistently falling below 100 since the start of the week.

That trend continued Wednesday night, when the Health Ministry announced 33 new confirmed cases over the previous 24 hours, though its announced total of  16,310 cumulative cases was lower than the total announced on Wednesday morning, raising questions over the ministry’s tracking of cases.

A spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.

According to the ministry, Israel’s death toll from the virus stands at 239, with one new death over the last day.

There were 89 patients in serious condition, including 69 on ventilators, and 62 in moderate condition. Fewer than 5,000 tests were conducted Wednesday, according to the ministry.

Shopping malls and outdoor markets have been shut since mid-March as part of a series of sweeping measures put in place by Israel to attempt to contain the virus, even at the expense of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

A medical team member wearing protective gear takes a swab from a woman to test for the coronavirus at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on April 30, 2020 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

While allowed to reopen, shopping malls and markets will face various restrictions, including limiting the number of shoppers allowed to enter to one person for every 20 square meters and working to ensure a distance of two meters between customers.

They will also be required to put up signs listing the maximum number of people allowed on the premises, and must not allow customers to consume food on site. Places for those waiting in line must be delineated, with signs posted about maintaining distance. Accessible stands with hand disinfectant must be placed in various areas around the mall or the open-air market.

Additionally, access to an outdoor market will only be granted to those wearing a face mask.

No special restrictions were officially announced on gyms, but many of them were expected to limit some aspects of their services, such as restricting or blocking access to the premises’ showers and towels.

The measures were approved and announced on Monday as part of a dramatic easing of the social distancing restrictions and limitations on movement and economic activity meant to contain the coronavirus.

“We achieved major success” in containing the virus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a press conference at his office in Jerusalem, citing the declining rate of new infections and the fast-growing number of people to recover from COVID-19.

However, authorities also warned that restrictions could be quickly snapped back in place if cases outside of known hotspots spike or other metrics are met, amid worries about a possible second wave of infections.

Netanyahu said a cancellation of all limitations on gatherings was planned for June 14, “assuming that no red light is lit.”

Among the restrictions that have already been lifted is the 100-meter limit on travel from home for activities deemed non-essential. Visits to immediate family members were permitted, including with grandparents, although social distancing should be maintained on visits to elderly relatives, with no hugs or kisses.

Israeli children visit their grandparents in the central ctiy of Kfar Yona on April 21, 2020. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

Gatherings of up to 20 people were allowed in open areas, to be expanded to up 50 people on May 17. Weddings and funerals can now have up to 50 people if they are held in open areas.

With some grades having returned to school this week, kindergartens and daycares are set to reopen on Sunday, while all students will return to classes by the end of the month. Universities and colleges are set to reopen on June 14.

Restrictions were also set to be eased on sports and leisure, with Netanyahu saying guidelines would soon be published for the reopening of parks, hotels, guesthouses and other venues. Soccer matches were set to resume May 30, according to a Thursday announcement.

In yet another sign of the country’s return to normal, the Israel Defense Forces said Thursday that Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai, who led the military’s efforts during the pandemic, would end his three-year tenure as the head of the Home Front Command on May 19 before succeeding Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan as head of the Central Command. He will be succeeded by Brig. Gen. Uri Gordin, who will be promoted to major general.

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