Tens of thousands at beaches, parks ahead of expected lockdowns on weekends

Some areas closed by authorities due to over-crowding; new restrictions likely as of next Friday

Israelis enjoy the beach in Tel Aviv on July 18, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Israelis enjoy the beach in Tel Aviv on July 18, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Tens of thousands of Israelis flocked to beaches and national parks on Saturday for a final weekend swim, ahead of expected tighter restrictions on Fridays and Saturdays set to begin July 24.

Tse’elon and Gofra beaches at the Sea of Galilee were shut due to overcrowding, and authorities asked visitors not to travel to the Dor, Beit Yanai and Palmachim beaches on the Mediterranean coast, which all reached capacity.

New public restrictions authorized by the government to combat the spread of the coronavirus entered into effect Friday at 5 p.m., limiting public gatherings until further notice and shuttering various leisure and fitness activities for the duration of the weekend.

A tighter weekend lockdown is likely to take effect from next Friday, including potential restrictions on movement and the closing of beaches.

Illustrative — people enjoy the beaches at the Sea of Galilee, on June 19, 2020 (David Cohen/Flash90)

On Friday, Dr. Hagai Levine, an epidemiologist who is the head of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, criticized the expected beach closures, saying that transmission rates of the coronavirus were lower in outdoor areas.

“Unfortunately, we see that our government is acting irrationally, and without an epidemiological basis. The beach is precisely the safest place, as the risk of infection in the open air is tens of times smaller than infection in an indoor place,” he told the Kan public broadcaster.

It was a sentiment backed by beachgoers in the central town of Rishon Lezion, who told the Ynet news site that it seemed illogical to close the coastline.

“As long as we keep our distance here with masks, no one can get infected. There are places that need to be closed, but here it is unnecessary,” a woman named only as Ravit told the news site.

Israelis enjoy the beach in Tel Aviv on July 18, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Ron, who works at Tzuk Beach in Tel Aviv, also disagreed with the potential closure. “For me it doesn’t make sense at all. They come and decide to close all the beaches for no real justifiable reason,” he said. “It’s sad that next week there will be more people without a livelihood.”

The government has been accused by some of making the decision to shut beaches without any scientific basis, and instead focusing on a comment made by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, who told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the country’s beaches are “like a can of sardines” at the weekends.

A last-minute reversal by the government on Friday led to a decision to keep restaurants open until Tuesday, when they will be shuttered until further notice for all but takeaways and deliveries. The government changed course when it faced widespread threats by restaurant owners to defy the closure order.

Under the new rules, gyms and fitness studios closed at 5 p.m. on Friday until further notice. Gatherings of over 10 people indoors, and 20 outdoors, are also forbidden until further notice, but work groups and nuclear families are exempt.

Additionally, government offices will be limited to 50% capacity and will be closed to the public, except for online services, until further notice.

Meanwhile, only on weekends until further notice, shops will close but stores offering essential services, such as pharmacies and supermarkets, will be allowed to remain open.

Malls, markets, barbers, hairdressers, beauty parlors, libraries, zoos, museums, exhibition spaces, pools and tourist sites will also be closed on weekends.

Chairs outside a fast food restaurant on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on July 17, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)The weekend restrictions take effect at 5 p.m. on Friday, and are lifted at 5 a.m. on Sunday.

Netanyahu on Thursday asked Knesset Law Committee Chairman MK Ya’akov Asher to prepare legislation to be voted on next week that would grant the government the authority to declare full lockdowns on weekends.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn vowed there will be no limits on demonstrations or on courts, even if a full lockdown is enacted down the road.

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