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Synagogues could open next week as ministers ease lockdown — reports

Edelstein said to drop opposition to allowing houses of worship to reopen if they comply with general limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings

In this Monday, September 21, 2020 file photo, ultra-Orthodox Jews wear face masks during a morning prayer in a synagogue separated by plastic partitions, in Bnei Brak, Israel. (AP/Oded Balilty, File)
In this Monday, September 21, 2020 file photo, ultra-Orthodox Jews wear face masks during a morning prayer in a synagogue separated by plastic partitions, in Bnei Brak, Israel. (AP/Oded Balilty, File)

Synagogues may be allowed to reopen as soon as Sunday as part of a rollback of national lockdown measures, the Kan public broadcaster reported on Wednesday.

According to the report, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has dropped his opposition to allowing synagogues to reopen, on the condition that attendance indoors is capped at 10 and outdoors at 20.

A separate report from Channel 12 news said that outgoing coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu has signaled he won’t oppose the reopening of synagogues.

Under the current virus restrictions, gatherings of up 10 people are allowed indoors and up to 20 outdoors, though synagogues and other houses of worship are barred from opening.

A synagogue in the settlement of Karnei Shomron, in the West Bank on March 25, 2020 (Sraya Diamant/Flash90 )

Earlier this month it was reported that some ministers were expected to demand that synagogues be reopened if stores were allowed to operate.

Ministers are set to sit down to continue mapping Israel’s exit strategy when the so-called coronavirus cabinet convenes on Thursday morning, including deliberations on the reopening of houses of worship.

However, a Wednesday meeting between Finance Minister Israel Katz and Edelstein to work out a plan for allowing storefronts to resume business ended without any agreement, according to Hebrew media reports. Katz is pushing for all stores to be allowed to reopen next week, but Edelstein opposes doing so at this stage.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein speaks during a press conference at Airport City, outside Tel Aviv, on September 17, 2020. (Flash90)

Schools and many businesses have been shut since September 18, when Israel began a lockdown aimed at suppressing the rapidly spreading virus, which had turned the country into a global COVID-19 hotspot.

Preschools reopened on October 18, and ministers in the coronavirus cabinet on Monday night approved the reopening of schools for children in first to fourth grade early next week.

They also okayed the lifting of a series of other restrictions aimed at containing the pandemic. They also approved the reopening of hairdressers, beauty salons and other businesses that serve a single customer at a time starting on Sunday.

According to the Health Ministry’s nine-stage lockdown exit plan, business openings would only occur at the third stage, set for November 15 at the earliest.

View of closed shops in the Rehovot Mall, on October 19, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The steep drop in cases, however, has led many to seek a quicker rebound than the Health Ministry advises.

Following the initial coronavirus lockdown in the spring, health officials abandoned their staged plan amid pressure from ministers and opened nearly all schools and businesses at once in early May. That move has been blamed for playing a part in runaway infection rates over the summer, which multiplied when schools opened on September 1.

The Health Ministry said 518 new coronavirus cases were confirmed by 10 p.m. Wednesday, bringing the number of infections since the pandemic began to 312,550. The death toll rose to 2,494, with 11 new deaths since Tuesday night.

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