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Some malls reopen, defying virus rules: ‘We’re not waiting for the government’

Complaining of discrimination, some stores in malls offer ‘takeout’ for products, citing lighter restrictions on restaurants as justification

The BIG shopping center in Ashdod, on February 7, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
The BIG shopping center in Ashdod, on February 7, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

As Israel began to ease lockdown measures on Sunday, several chain stores in outdoor shopping centers across the country opened to customers in violation of the ongoing coronavirus restrictions on commerce.

Strip malls belonging to the BIG group opened at several locations in the center and the north of the country.

While some stores operating at the shopping centers have been allowed to stay open during the weeks-long lockdown — either being deemed “essential” or providing food for delivery — several other prominent chains in some malls defiantly welcomed customers Sunday morning.

According to Channel 12 news, Steimatzky’s, Renoir, Fox, Crazy Line, Select, and Castro were among the large franchises to have opened.

Army Radio reported that some stores, angered by what they say is unfairly imposed restrictions, allowed customers to purchase products using a “takeout” model after restaurants were allowed to offer the service from Sunday morning.

Managers of shopping centers have complained of discrimination throughout the lockdowns as many other stores and commercial sites have been allowed to return to business before them.

Shachar Turgeman, chair of the Commercial and Fashion Chains Union, said: “We are not waiting for the government. The opening is our response to the continuation of the closure.”

The closed BIG shopping center in Carmiel, on September 24, 2020, during a nationwide lockdown. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The third nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 was eased on Sunday at 7 a.m. after over a month, as the country continues to grapple with thousands of daily new cases and a death toll that has reached over 5,000.

As of Sunday morning, restrictions on individual travel to within 1,000 meters of people’s homes have been lifted; nature reserves, national parks, heritage sites, and Israel Antiquities Authority sites were set to reopen to the public; businesses that do not cater to the public were allowed to reopen; restaurant takeout services and businesses with individual interactions, like hairdressers and cosmeticians, were allowed to operate; and vacation rentals were allowed to cater to single families.

A woman gets her hair done at a beauty salon in Jerusalem on February 7, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Further openings, including open-air shopping centers, are set to be announced in the coming days, but the government has said further steps will be dependent on infection rates.

According to Health Ministry figures Sunday morning, Israel recorded 2,625 new coronavirus infections on Saturday out of some 28,000 tests performed. As usual, notably fewer tests were carried out over the weekend. The positivity rate of Saturday’s tests was 8.1 percent.

A total of 1,114 patients were listed in serious condition, including 312 who are on ventilators. The death toll climbed to 5,096 as of Sunday afternoon, according to ministry figures.

Israel’s vaccination program with the Pfizer/BioNtech shot is ongoing, with 3,426,810 people receiving the first dose and 2,016,351 of them also receiving the second dose as of Sunday afternoon.

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