Israelis have flocked back to restaurants, bars and cafes in the days since they were allowed to reopen, with many booked up and credit card companies noting a spike in spending on Friday.
Since reopening Sunday, restaurants and cafes have seen a torrent of customers, with many would-be diners unable to make reservations as tables at many eateries are all booked days in advance, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
Some restaurants had a 10-day waiting list, the report said. “It’s crazy,” said Haggai, a co-owner of Tel Aviv’s Goocha restaurant. “From the start of the week, every day has been packed to weekend levels.”
Restaurants in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Beersheba all told the TV reporters they were solidly booked through the weekend and beyond.
Sharon Mizrahi, owner of the Manta Ray seafood restaurant in Tel Aviv, said she had over 400 calls and dozens of emails from people seeking reservations that she simply hadn’t had time to deal with. “It’s frustrating, but people understand.”
“It’s non-stop here,” she added, pointing to her packed sea-front restaurant.
Under the relaxed virus rules, eateries are allowed to host up to 100 people with Green Passes — indicating vaccination or recovery from the virus — indoors at up to 75 percent capacity, and can seat up to 100 people outside, even without passes. Tables must be two meters apart.
Previously, restaurants and cafes had only been able to offer takeout and delivery services.
Credit card companies reported a marked jump in spending Friday morning, a day off for many Israelis and a popular time for brunch.
Compared to the previous Friday, there was a 15 percent increase in spending between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., with Israelis shelling out NIS 538.9 million (nearly $162 million) on their credit cards during that time, according to Automated Bank Services, which processes international payments for Israeli credit cards.
During that same period last week, Automated Bank Services said Israelis spent NIS 468.3 million ($140.7 million) on their credit cards.
While this is welcome news for restaurant owners who were severely impacted financially by the restrictions, for many it came too late.
Channel 12 reported last week that some 4,000 of the 14,000 restaurants that operated before the pandemic have closed for good.
Besides restaurants, the current stage of reopening extends to all school grades, event venues, attractions and hotels, with some of the activities available only to those with Green Passes.
Israel in February began easing restrictions following a third lockdown and has since gradually reopened shopping malls, gyms, swimming pools, hotels and some cultural facilities.
Health Ministry data published Friday afternoon showed that 2,510 new cases were confirmed the previous day. The Ynet news site said more than half of them were under 19 years old, an age group in which serious cases are rare. The rate of positive tests stood at 3.1 percent, continuing the trend of low positivity.
Since the start of the pandemic, 816,198 Israelis have been confirmed to have the coronavirus. They include 34,322 active cases, of whom 621 are in serious condition — the lowest figure recorded since December 26. They also include 257 patients regarded as critical.
The total number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients dropped below 1,000 to 997.
The death toll was nearing the 6,000 mark and reached 5,980. The data showed 196 people died in the first 11 days of March. More than 1,400 died in January, with the rate appearing to slow down almost threefold.
The virus’s basic reproduction number, which represents the average number of people each carrier infects, dropped further to 0.83. A transmission rate below 1 means the outbreak is abating.
All the figures represent a dramatic improvement over the past two months, credited chiefly to the successful vaccination campaign. The success comes despite the more infectious new mutated coronavirus strains proliferating and despite the gradual lifting of virus restrictions.
The Health Ministry said 5,117,096 people have received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. The number of people who also received the second shot passed 4 million and stood at 4,094,073.