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Report: Health Ministry pushing for all-or-nothing approach to weekend closures

Officials want government to either remove all restrictions or ban all leisure activity on Saturdays, saying half-measures are inefficient, erode public trust

Illustrative: People wearing face masks walk and shop at the Mamilla mall near Jerusalem's Old City on July 6, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Illustrative: People wearing face masks walk and shop at the Mamilla mall near Jerusalem's Old City on July 6, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry is unhappy with the current state of weekend restrictions and is demanding that the cabinet decide on one of two options, Channel 12 news reported Friday: either completely close down leisure activities on weekends or remove all restrictions.

Health officials believe the current half-measures are inefficient and create a sense of distrust among the public, and a feeling that government restrictions are random and irrational, the report said: if restaurants are open, for example, there is no justification to close down stores and shopping centers.

The report said that health ministry officials had opposed the idea of weekend only closures, believing them inefficient. But if they are imposed, they should be adopted fully.

Restrictions aimed at curbing the coronavirus kicked in at 5 p.m. Friday and will remain in effect until early Sunday morning, after a tumultuous week that saw some of the government’s planned closures overturned by a Knesset panel.

Malls are closed for the weekend, as well as most stores, markets, open-air shopping centers, hair and beauty salons and gyms. They will be allowed to reopen at 5 a.m. on Sunday.

Restaurants are allowed to continue their operations under the existing rules, which allow up to 20 diners indoors and 30 outdoors. Beaches and swimming pools will also remain open.

People wearing face masks due to the coronavirus outbreak enjoy the beach in Tel Aviv on July 18, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Unlike during the nationwide closures of March and April, there are no limits on leaving home.

Supermarkets, pharmacies and public transportation are not affected by the closure. Also unaffected are museums — except those aimed at children — exhibition spaces, zoos, cable cars, tourism sites and amusement rides.

Culture events, event halls, bars and nightclubs are already closed until further notice. Gatherings are currently permitted for up to 10 people indoors and 20 people outdoors. Synagogues are allowed to host prayers with no more than 10 worshipers.

The Knesset Coronavirus Committee this week continued with its series of reversals of cabinet-imposed restrictions, ruling in several separate decisions that restaurants, attractions, swimming pools and beaches could remain open over the weekend and that gyms may reopen on Sunday morning.

The committee has said the Health Ministry has not provided sufficient evidence to justify shuttering such places, but health officials say the origin of a significant portion of infections is not known, therefore forcing them to partially rely on global data on infections to decide on high-risk locations

The Knesset on Thursday passed a law that grants the cabinet expanded powers to impose wide-ranging restrictions to curb the coronavirus pandemic, while reducing parliamentary oversight, in a move seen as designed to disempower the Coronavirus Committee.

The so-called Great Coronavirus Law, which comes into force on August 10, reduces the Knesset’s oversight power and neuters the Coronavirus Committee.

On Friday evening the Health Ministry’s latest figures showed Israel recorded 2,022 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, similar to daily numbers over the past week. The national death toll rose by two to 448.

The latest cases brought the total case count in Israel to 59,475, of which 32,230 were active cases. Of the patients, 308 were in serious condition (84 of them on ventilators), 138 were in moderate condition and the rest had mild symptoms or were asymptomatic.

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