Minister says new lockdown will be looser, more focused on mental health

As government set to decide on exact lockdown rules, Yizhar Shai tells ToI rules will focus on keeping people sane, including opening playgrounds and outdoor exercise equipment

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

This March 19, 2020 photo shows playground at Tel Aviv's beachfront wrapped in tape to prevent public access.(AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
This March 19, 2020 photo shows playground at Tel Aviv's beachfront wrapped in tape to prevent public access.(AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Final lockdown rules will be thrashed out by the government Tuesday night, and they will fix “mistakes” of the first lockdown and pay better attention to the physical and psychological shape of the nation, according to Israel’s science minister.

The sign of warning tape strung across playgrounds to stop children from entering, a jarring image of the March-April closure, won’t be seen again, and use of outdoor gym equipment will be “encouraged,” Yizhar Shai told The Times of Israel.

“There will be many changes and improvements and fine tuning that have been concluded [after the] the first lockdown, and which have been learned [about] from science,” he said.

Shai said that the rules, which build on a general outline issued on Sunday, will be “very very granular,” and that while in general people will be expected to stay within 500 meters of their homes, there will be a “long list of exceptions.”

While last time measures kept people within 100 meters from home during the severe phase of the lockdown, with very limited exceptions, the government has learned that this time it should emphasize “personal aspects of a healthy mentality, and helping people deal and cope with personal challenges,” he said.

A woman returning from an exercise session during the pandemic (iStock)

Shai, a member of both the security cabinet and the so-called coronavirus cabinet, said Israelis would be able to “go out and buy food supplies, pharmacy products, and all kinds of essentials for home improvements and things you may need for the home from a hardware store. We are putting in place provisions for caring for the elderly and people with special needs.

Israel’s Minister of Science and Technology Yizhar Shai, addressing a virtual coronavirus conference on September 15, 2020 (YouTube)

“We are putting together provisions for personal sports — that’s a piece of science, as science indicates that people during the pandemic, for physical reasons and for psychological reasons, need to get out; so we’re putting provision[s] for people to be able to go out of their homes.”

“People with young children will be allowed to go out to neighborhood parks, and they will be able to use the equipment in the neighborhood parks,” he said. “This is science that was developed [after] the first lockdown we had here in March and April — it showed the risks of using park equipment [are] relatively low and the benefits are high.”

But Shai noted that it will be “absolutely forbidden to go into the water, not only at the beach, but also swimming pools,” However, he said that if people want to run on the seashore, they will be allowed to do so if they live within 500 meters, or if they integrate it in to a run that starts and finishes at their home.

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