Tens of thousands of street-front stores reopened Sunday, as the government further eased lockdown restrictions in place to stem the coronavirus pandemic.
Stores opened for business with a maximum of four customers allowed inside at a time, and in compliance with virus regulations including social distancing and the wearing of masks.
Many owners expressed relief at being allowed to reopen after months of financial hardship, with Eli Dana, the owner of a Tel Aviv jewelry shop, telling the Ynet news site he felt like “I’m being released from detainment.”
The stores had been closed since mid-September, when Israel introduced a nationwide lockdown that excluded only essential businesses.
“Seeing these people come in and out cheers me up. Beyond the financial issue, there is the mental issue and depression — I am sure half of them have had anxiety regarding the current situation and the future,” Dana said.
But many businesses did not reopen and in fact have permanently closed down, a sign of the heavy toll the virus has exacted on the country’s economy.
“The two lockdowns completely finished us,” clothing store owner Lisa Farage from Raanana told Ynet. “We’re a street store that barely works in the winter and survives on sales made in the summer. We were shut down for both Passover and Rosh Hashanah, which we normally rely on for the entire winter.”
Farage said government compensation to businesses “can only cover 30 percent of the expenses.”
On Wednesday, ministers voted to allow stores to reopen, over the objections of health officials who have urged a slow and gradual reopening of the economy, schools and more. However, the move only covers street-front stores, excluding those in malls or shopping centers.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was also reportedly reluctant to okay the openings, has warned that the government could snap back some restrictions if infection numbers rise.
Meanwhile, Hebrew-language media reported Sunday that Ben Gurion Airport had completed setting up its coronavirus testing lab for travelers. The lab, which includes both fast testing and tests that require a longer wait, is still awaiting Health Ministry approval before being declared operational.
It will likely open in the coming days, reports said.
The Health Ministry said Sunday that just 208 coronavirus cases were identified in Israel on Saturday, although that was the result of the far lower testing rates on weekends.
Figures by the ministry showed that 2.6 percent of the 8,070 test results that came back Saturday were positive. The previous few days had 30,000-40,000 daily tests, with a positive rate between 1.6% and 2.3%.
There are 8,698 confirmed active cases in the country, with the total tally since the start of the pandemic at 319,090.
Of the active cases, 333 were in serious condition, including 147 on ventilators. Another 104 were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms.
The death toll remained at 2,664.
Ahead of the weekend ministers approved local lockdown measures on several locations due to high coronavirus infection rates, including the Druze towns of Buq’ata, Mas’ade and Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights and an ultra-Orthodox section of Hazor Haglilit in the Galilee.
The country sharply brought down its daily coronavirus infection rates from some 8,000 in mid-September to several hundred by late October with a nationwide lockdown, which it began to gradually ease last month.