Netanyahu instructs to 'enforce aggressively'

Police warn of heavy enforcement as some shops plan to open in revolt

Dozens of retailers expected to open to the public Thursday in three malls in defiance of rules, though while adhering to self-declared regulations

View of the closed-down stores in the Givatayim Mall during a nationwide lockdown, January 18, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
View of the closed-down stores in the Givatayim Mall during a nationwide lockdown, January 18, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Police warned Wednesday they would heavily enforce coronavirus restrictions as dozens of businesses in at least three shopping malls announced plans to open in defiance of health rules on Thursday.

Three malls were expected to open on Thursday, in open rebellion against coronavirus lockdown regulations that have shuttered most businesses. The malls that have decided to open are in Bat Yam, Karmiel and Petah Tikva. The decision was announced by a forum that includes mall owners, chain stores, small businesses and executives from the restaurant, tourism, hotel and entertainment industries.

Many more shopping centers had initially been expected to reopen, but by Wednesday evening it appeared that activity would be centered in three malls only.

Police officials told Channel 12 they would issue high fines and lengthy closure orders for shops that defied closure orders.

In recordings from a cabinet meeting aired by Channel 12 Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was heard telling law enforcement to “enforce aggressively,” and asking for a report on enforcement work for the next meeting.

Meanwhile, the malls declared their own health standards for reopening: allowing in people over 60 only if they’ve received both vaccine doses; people under 60 who have received the first shot; those who have recovered from COVID-19; and those who have tested negative in the previous 72 hours or are under age 16.

Some of the stores that plan to open include Steve Madden, Castro, Nine West, Lee Cooper, Aldo and Timberland, Channel 12 said.

The lockdown, now in its fifth week, has shuttered numerous businesses and public venues, as well as almost the entire education system. Though some restrictions were rolled back at the beginning of the week, most stores and commercial centers remain closed.

An Israeli receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Jerusalem, February 10, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Businesses have complained that the government has forced them to shutter for extended periods while failing to provide sufficient financial support. Thousands have closed down throughout the pandemic and unemployment levels remain high.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Wednesday warned businesses and municipal authorities that have threatened to revolt against the rules.

“I recommend to all those business owners and heads of authorities who think they are professors of epidemiology and medicine — be careful,” Edelstein said, noting the Knesset recently passed legislation doubling fines for lockdown violators.

“We will not hesitate to enforce this law,” he stressed.

The Health Ministry on Tuesday presented ministers with a plan to gradually reopen the economy, based on infection and vaccination rates, that could see gyms, malls and hotels open to the vaccinated on February 23.

According to the draft presented to ministers by the Health Ministry, the economic restart will be split into three stages. The proposal envisions reopening gyms, malls, hotels and other sites in two weeks’ time to the vaccinated and to those with a negative coronavirus test — and coffee shops and restaurants to the general public by early March.

The coronavirus cabinet on Tuesday evening approved the education aspect of the reopening stages. The ministers debated the rest of the Health Ministry framework, but did not vote on the proposal.

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