Restaurants could be released from coronavirus shutdown orders by the end of the week, following an agreement between the economy and health ministries.
The aim is to open restaurants before the coming Shavuot holiday, which begins on Thursday night next week.
Current pandemic regulations, which have been in place since mid-March, mandate that eateries prepare food for delivery or takeaway only.
The Health Ministry had previously mulled giving the go-ahead for opening restaurants and cafes for regular business only at the end of the month.
According to reports Sunday, officials are still working on the details of a “purple badge” for restaurants, a government standard that certifies businesses work according to required hygiene regulations during the outbreak.
Outgoing economy and industry minister Eli Cohen confirmed the reports, saying in a statement that an agreement had been reached to “bring forward the opening of restaurants and cafes” amid recent low infection rates.
Cohen, who was sworn in as intelligence minister later in the day under the new unity government deal, said opening restaurants will immediately bring tens of thousands of employees back to work. He called for accelerating plans to completely remove remaining lockdown restrictions from the economy.
The decision to move forward came after the Health Ministry realized it would face unbearable pressure to approve opening restaurants after many other lockdown measures were already lifted, reports said. Schools and gyms have been reopened, with beaches set to open later this week.
Along with restaurants and cafes, restrictions will also be lifted from hotels.
On Saturday, a number of restaurants across Israel opened their doors to the public, allowing patrons to enjoy their meals in outdoor seating areas in defiance of the pandemic regulations.
Israel’s news channels called the move a low-key rebellion, as many eateries have struggled to survive and have not received clear indication when they might reopen. Owners have also pointed to problems caused by regulations that permit customers to eat on an adjacent bench, but not a table supplied by an eatery.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai has backed the move to reopen restaurants, saying the 50,000 restaurant and cafe workers in the city need to get back to work.
“To me, it’s not a question of whether it’s possible to open restaurants or not. Sometimes there’s no choice,” he told Channel 12 news on Saturday.
Last week, the Economy Ministry reportedly presented health officials with a plan to reopen restaurants that would require businesses to adhere to strict hygiene guidelines as well as social distancing.
Under pressure from Orthodox groups and the Chief Rabbinate, senior government officials met on Sunday to discuss the reopening of the country’s synagogues, which were shuttered in late March in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
According to a statement released on Sunday afternoon by the office of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, representatives of the health and interior ministries and the National Security Council met and drafted a plan that they expect will soon receive cabinet approval.
The number of new infections has slowed dramatically in recent weeks. Israel has gone 14 days without seeing over 100 new confirmed cases in a single day. Amid a sustained drop in coronavirus infections the government has increasingly rolled back restrictions meant to curb the outbreak.