Netanyahu says restaurant deliveries to continue under new rules, but no takeout
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Netanyahu says restaurant deliveries to continue under new rules, but no takeout

Government finalizing stricter lockdown directives; Health Ministry says shutting down supermarkets not on the table after top official appeared to suggest it

A delivery man rides his bicycle near the beach in Tel Aviv on March 19, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
A delivery man rides his bicycle near the beach in Tel Aviv on March 19, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Restaurants will not be barred from delivering food under new restrictions being debated by the cabinet to contain the coronavirus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said that with government ministries divided over the matter, Netanyahu decided deliveries can continue in accordance with Health Ministry directives.

Self pick-up from restaurants, however, will be barred.

The cabinet was working on finalizing the new measures, with a meeting for their approval yet to be scheduled.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement on the coronavirus at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to Hebrew media reports, the Health Ministry was pushing for deliveries to be barred as part of a full lockdown it was advocating.

The Finance Ministry reportedly opposed imposing a full lockdown amid concerns such a move could cause deep economic damage.

Under current Health Ministry directives, food delivery is permitted, but must be left at the doorstep of a residence.

A sign at a restaurant in Jerusalem says it will only be offering takeout due to Health Ministry directives against the coronavirus, March 15, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Also Tuesday, the Health Minister said Israel is not considering shutting down supermarkets, after a top official appeared to suggest such a step could be taken.

“We would like to clarify that this is a scenario that is being appraised for a very extreme situation, and is not currently on the agenda,” the ministry said.

Itamar Grotto, deputy director-general of the Health Ministry, had said earlier that food stores may be need to be closed, with meals distributed to the public.

“But this requires a lot of infrastructure,” he said.

Grotto also said the new measures will stop well short of a full lockdown, but will still drastically restrict people’s movement.

He said people will only be allowed to venture slightly outside their homes, with police enforcing this “on an individual level,” apparently through tracking cellphone locations.

Grotto stressed exercise will still be allowed in pairs up to a kilometer radius and that Israelis can take their dogs out, but added the details are still being hammered out by the government.

A woman walks her dog outside the Old City of Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate on March 23, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

According to reports Monday, the new measures could include a shut down of public transportation, the closing of all stores besides supermarkets and pharmacies, as well limitations on how far people not going to work can walk outside their homes.

All stores are to be shuttered other than supermarkets, food outlets, and pharmacies, the reports said. Until now stores have been able to remain open if they can ensure customers maintain a two-meter distance from each other, or by only serving clientele at the door and denying entry to the premises.

Jerusalem Municipality workers close the entrances to the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on March 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel on Sunday put in place new measures aimed at enforcing the social distancing rules, but many Israelis have continued to venture out, for work or leisure, leading officials to warn that a full lockdown enforced by police and the army could be in the offing.

As of Tuesday, there were 1,656 confirmed cases in Israel of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, with two fatalities. Around the world, there have been more than 17,000 deaths and nearly 400,000 cases.

Over the past few weeks, the government has ordered increasingly severe restrictions on public life, with schools, universities, and leisure centers shuttered and Israelis ordered to remain inside as much as possible.

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