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Over 10,000 sign petition to asking gov’t to allow nature trips during lockdown

Nature, public health groups, call on coronavirus cabinet convening Tuesday to permit walking, exercise in nature and open spaces for sake of mental, physical health

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

The empty Park HaYarkon in Tel Aviv, on September 20, 2020. Israel has seen a spike of new COVID-19 cases bringing the authorities to reimpose a nationwide lockdown which began on Friday and will last at least three weeks. (Menachem Lederman/Flash90)
The empty Park HaYarkon in Tel Aviv, on September 20, 2020. Israel has seen a spike of new COVID-19 cases bringing the authorities to reimpose a nationwide lockdown which began on Friday and will last at least three weeks. (Menachem Lederman/Flash90)

More than 10,000 people have signed a petition calling on the government to ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions and allow Israelis to go out into nature and open spaces to walk and exercise.

The petition comes ahead of a meeting Tuesday of the so-called coronavirus cabinet, that is expected to review the restrictions.

The public is currently limited to a radius of 1,000 meters (just under 1,100 yards) from their homes (except for the purposes of exercise or shopping for essential goods).

National Parks are closed and beach visits are banned, as the police drove home on Friday, when they handcuffed a woman on a Tel Aviv beach for reportedly refused to identify herself for a fine for not wearing a facemask.

In a joint statement sent together with the petition to ministers on Monday, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians wrote: “Spending time in nature and in the open air is of proven benefit to human health, both physical and mental. This is not a luxury, but an essential activity, especially at this time.”

Outdoor activities, with appropriate social distancing, have been shown to be relatively low-risk activities in terms of virus infections.

The petition calls on the Education Minister to encourage learning and extracurricular activities outdoors, as part of the gradual coronavirus exit strategy.

Israelis on the beach promenade in Tel Aviv, during a nationwide lockdown. October 10, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

It also proposes that the Health Ministry launch a campaign to get the public out of doors.

“Studies show that merely spending time in green areas contributes to reducing depression and hypertension and to faster recovery from illness,” the letter says.

“Exercise, especially when it is done in the open air and in nature, helps to strengthen the immune system.”

After Israel’s first coronavirus lockdown in the spring, national parks were allowed to reopen gradually, with obligatory advance registration, visitor quotas and limits on the duration of visits.

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