Restaurateurs expressed outrage on Saturday over a delay of the vote finalizing regulations for their planned reopening the next day, and slammed the reported “shameful and disrespectful” changes to the proposed framework in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The authors of the letter criticized the frequent adjustments made to the proposal for the country’s next step in emerging from a nationwide lockdown on Sunday, saying they would open in accordance with the initial plan.
“In recent weeks, the restaurateurs have begun preparations to open their businesses and for this purpose have invested a lot of resources,” wrote the restaurant and bar owners in an open letter to Netanyahu.
“The preparations were accelerated against the background of an agreement we reached with the Health Ministry and the ministries of economy and finance for an outline for reopening that will allow us to work according to a reasonable economic model,” the letter read.
According to the authors, after agreeing on a distance of 1.5 meters (5 feet) between tables and 75 percent occupancy of fully vaccinated diners, the guidelines were to be changed to 2.5 meters (8 feet) between tables and only 30% occupancy, which made the regulations “shameful and disrespectful.”
“In light of your government’s shameful and disrespectful behavior toward the entrepreneurial public in the industry, the business owners intend to no longer follow government guidelines which require a distance of 1.5 meters between the tables,” the statement read.
Channel 12 reported on Friday that only around 6,000 restaurants were set to reopen after the weekend, out of over 14,000 that operated before the pandemic. Around 4,000 restaurants have closed for good, the report said.
The move to further ease restrictions from Sunday morning needs a third vote of approval from the coronavirus cabinet, which on Friday was delayed until Saturday night.
Besides reopening restaurants, the next stage out of lockdown includes reopening some schools, cafes, event venues, attractions and hotels — with some of the activities available only to those with Green Passes signaling they are immunized against the virus.
The holdup frustrated some business owners who need to carry out lengthy preparations before reopening.
Oleg Bartov, who owns a bar in central Israel, told the Ynet news site that he began preparations for reopening this past Tuesday and would be financially devastated if not permitted to operate on the initially agreed-upon date.
“I brought in a cleaning crew after the place was closed for over half a year. I ordered supplies, beer, meat, vegetables, and I’m ready to open the place within 15 minutes,” he said.
“I’m ready for dozens of customers per evening, and if they decide in the end to not open, after the financial damage caused in the past year, I’ll lose thousands more shekels,” he said.
Meanwhile, some business owners said they were struggling to recruit staff, with many of their workers preferring to stay furloughed.
“I put a job ad up and received zero phone calls. I had dozens of employees furloughed and no one wants to go back to work,” Shlomi Salomon, owner of a Tel Aviv restaurant told the Kan public broadcaster. “How do we open on Sunday? With [which workers]? All the slogans say ‘open up, open up,’ but that’s a big lie. There are a million unemployed but nobody’s coming to work.”
The sentiment was echoed by a restaurateur in the central city of Rishon Lezion who told the outlet that a number of potential workers had hinted to him that they would only work for cash payments so that they can continue to receive their furlough payments.
“They say, ‘I have no problem returning, but the payslip will hurt me, so take from that what you will,'” Uzi Ovadia said.
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.
The Health Ministry in February launched the long-awaited “Green Pass” certificate enabling those vaccinated or recovered from the coronavirus to take part in various activities.
New coronavirus deaths and infections in Israel have continued to decline from highs in January, and the number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients has dropped to its lowest point since last year.
According to Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute, some 87% of all Israelis aged 16 and up who aren’t ultra-Orthodox or Arab have either recovered from COVID-19 or received at least one vaccine dose.
The equivalent figure for the ultra-Orthodox community was 72%, while the lowest immunization rate, 64%, has been observed among Arab Israelis.
Despite the overall decline in severity of Israel’s third-wave outbreak, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said Friday that Israel could yet be forced to enter a fourth lockdown to combat the spread of the virus as the infection rate inched back up.
Health Ministry figures showed the virus’s basic reproduction number, or R-number, was at 1.01 Friday morning, meaning the overall number of cases was growing slowly. The R-number had been below 1 since late January.
However, coronavirus testing also showed its lowest positivity rate in months, with some 3,600 tests coming back positive Thursday out of 92,000 tests — or some 4 percent.
Serious cases also remained at their lowest number since December, with 690 patients.