Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu green-lighted a general plan to ease restrictions on economic activity and “stay home” orders, potentially allowing some businesses to open as soon as next week.
A statement from Netanyahu’s office described the plan, which still must be approved by the full cabinet, as “responsible, cautious and gradual” and said it would allow for a limited opening of businesses.
No specific timeline for the plan was detailed, but according to Hebrew media reports some businesses could reopen as early as next week.
According to Netanyahu’s office, the Finance Ministry will draw up a “pilot plan” for some sectors of the economy to open in accordance with Health Ministry social distancing guidelines. Criteria will be drawn up for certification that will allow businesses to open.
Among the criteria likely to be included are regular disinfecting, taking customers’ temperatures and abiding by social distancing regulations, according to reports.
The industries and businesses that would be allowed to take part in the pilot would be decided on in the next two days, but malls, open-air markets and businesses that involve physical contact will not yet be allowed to reopen.
The statement also said that restrictions on movement will be slightly eased, with Israelis allowed to exercise in pairs up to 500 meters from their homes, up from the 100 meter limit currently in place.
Special education would also be allowed to resume but preschools and schools will not yet reopen.
A final decision will be brought for cabinet approval Saturday evening,
“Changes are likely during the deliberations over the next days,” the statement said.
Quoting sources close to Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, Hebrew media reports said numerous industries would be allowed to resume operations Sunday, though there was no confirmation of this in the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Almost all factories will be allowed to resume work under the plan, according to Channel 12 news.
There was no indication from the statement that restrictions banning group prayer would be eased, despite a push by ultra-Orthodox ministers for more freedom for religious gatherings.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, urged the government to permit prayer gatherings of 10-15 people, provided the services are held outdoors and the worshipers stand apart in accordance with social distancing rules.
Israeli officials have been mulling in recent days how to begin to roll back some restrictions in response to figures which appear to indicate that the spread of the coronavirus has been halted or slowed in most communities.
As of Thursday evening, there have been 12,758 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel, with 143 deaths. New daily cases have remained steady at 300-450 per 24-hour period, and serious cases and those on ventilators have not risen significantly for at least a week, according to Health Ministry figures.
Netanyahu met Thursday with ministers and top officials for the first discussion of a strategy to ease the coronavirus restrictions and revive the economy, with officials from the health and finance ministries clashing over the proper approach.
While the Health Ministry has recommended a particularly slow and cautious strategy that would see businesses stay closed for at least another month, the Finance Ministry is demanding that restriction begin being eased as early as possible.
Most experts believe any gradual reopening of economic activity will involve a process of trial and error that may necessitate some restrictions being reimposed.
Earlier in the day, the ministerial committee formulating Israel’s response to the coronavirus outbreak approved a decision to relax lockdown restrictions in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, while extending closure rules in Jerusalem neighborhoods until April 19.
The ultra-Orthodox town of 200,000 near Tel Aviv has the second highest infection numbers in the country — 2,150 as of Thursday morning. Jerusalem leads with 2,418 cases.
Two weeks ago Bnei Brak was placed under a strict lockdown, with residents only allowed to leave municipal boundaries to work in key industries or to receive medical care. Some two dozen Jerusalem neighborhoods were put under lockdown on Sunday, most of them ultra-Orthodox.