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Synagogues, stores could be reopened for all Sunday; malls, gyms for vaccinated

Reported government plan would see pools and museums accessible for the immunized, with cafes and restaurants resuming operations in March

Israelis sit in the sun in Tel Aviv, on February 14, 2021. (Miriam Alster/ FLASH90)
Israelis sit in the sun in Tel Aviv, on February 14, 2021. (Miriam Alster/ FLASH90)

Malls, gyms, hotels, and other facilities could be opened to the vaccinated early next week, while street-front stores and houses of worship could be opened to the general public, according to television reports on Sunday.

The high-level coronavirus cabinet convened on Sunday to discuss a plan to further reopen the economy after a lengthy lockdown, as daily infection rates continued to slide. The meeting ended without decisions and will reconvene Monday.

The coalition’s Blue and White party is pushing for additional lockdown restrictions to be lifted this week, after some rules were eased last week. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud) was insisting that most businesses remain shut until next week, according to Channel 12, but was said to be willing to move up the reopening of some parts of the economy to Sunday, rather than Tuesday.

According to the current government plan, on February 23, street-front stores and synagogues could be reopened to the entire public, along with grades 5-6 and 11-12 in low-infection areas, Channel 12 reported. For the vaccinated, malls, markets, gyms, pools, museums, and hotels (without dining), would be reopened. Gatherings would be limited to 10 indoors and 20 outdoors.

In the second stage, on March 9, grades 7-10 in low infection areas, and moderately infected cities and towns where over 70 percent of the population is vaccinated, would resume in-person classes. Some cafes and restaurants would be reopened to the general population. For the vaccinated, restaurants, hotels with buffets, event halls, conferences and other attractions would be accessible. Permitted gatherings would be expanded to 20 indoors and 50 outdoors.

Over 3.8 million Israelis have received the first dose of the vaccine, and 2.5 million — over a quarter of the population — have received both shots.

A foreign resident living in Israel receives a dose of COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Centre for foreign nationals in Tel Aviv on February 9, 2021, during a campaign to vaccinate foreign workers and refugees against coronavirus. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Channel 12 also laid the government’s planned efforts to encourage or force vaccination, which face numerous legal challenges.

The steps include proposed legislation to allow the government to share information on non-vaccinated with local authorities; financial incentives for doctors who secure vaccination of over 50s; financial benefits for local authorities based on local vaccination rates; and mandatory vaccines, or required frequent testing, for teachers, drivers, and medical staff.

The plan to mandate vaccines for some professions was reportedly raised by the Health Ministry in Sunday’s coronavirus cabinet meeting.

Addressing the ministers on Sunday, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash expressed “cautious optimism” about the infection rates, though he said the number of seriously ill was dropping at a slower pace than anticipated.

“There is a drop in morbidity, but looking forward, we must be careful not to reopen irresponsibly, which will cause infections to rise,” said Ash, according to Army Radio.

Men praying outside a synagogue in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, September 6, 2020. (MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP)

Ash said he was “very, very troubled” by the prospect of mass violations over the Purim holiday later this month, with health officials set to recommend a nighttime curfew during the festival to prevent gatherings at synagogues and parties.

The government has yet to officially propose a plan to prevent outbreaks over Purim.

As of Sunday night, 90% of Israelis over 60 have been vaccinated (152,000 have not), according to the Health Ministry. Over half a million Israelis between 40 and 60 have yet to be vaccinated (73% have been inoculated). Half of the population between 16 and 40 have been inoculated, with 1.5 million yet to get the shots.

According to the Health Ministry, on Sunday night, there were 55,720 active virus cases in the country, including 1,875 diagnosed on Saturday. The Health Ministry data said 1,008 patients are in serious condition, including 284 on ventilators. The death toll stood 5,378.

According to figures released by the Military Intelligence task force, Israel’s R-value, the reproduction number of the virus that measures transmission, dropped from 1.0 last week to 0.85. The number of serious patients was also on the decline, the task force reported, with the number down 125 since last week, when there were 1,133 patients in serious condition.

But the data also showed a noticeable increase in serious cases among those under 60, who this week constituted about 40% of all serious patients. At the same time, there is a clear decline in the rate of severe morbidity among those 60 and over.

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