Transportation Minister Miri Regev and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein agreed Sunday that, from the end of the week, public buses will be able to increase their passenger load to 75 percent of the maximum capacity, and that trains will return to full service early next month.
There have been long lines and overcrowded conditions at bus stations, especially of soldiers returning to their bases after the weekend, as the public transportation routes ran at limited capacity due to restrictions imposed to curb the coronavirus pandemic.
In an easing of the lockdown measures, from Friday intercity buses will be permitted to carry 46 passengers instead of the 23-passenger limit currently applied.
All seats on buses will be available for use except the row directly behind the driver, which is to remain empty. A ban on passengers standing in aisles during journeys if no seat is available will remain in place.
Intracity buses, currently limited to just 20 passenger, will be able to carry up to 49 from the end of the week. The longer, articulated buses used in some Israeli cities will be permitted to carry up to 75 passengers. Passengers on all buses will be permitted to stand during journeys.
“Public transport is returning to wide-scale services. This the news that the Israeli public have been looking forward to,” Regev said in a joint statement with Edelstein.
Minibuses and shuttle services will be able to operate at 75% capacity and taxis will be permitted to carry two passengers in the backseat. Currently, due to coronavirus restrictions, two people are only permitted in the backseat if one is accompanying the other for health reasons.
The ministers also agreed that Israel Railways will return to full service on June 8. The rail network shut down in March and only began a limited service on some central lines earlier this month.
“Since last week we are in the midst of a trend of opening the economy for the benefit of the public and businesses,” Edelstein said in the statement. “But continuation depends on each and every one of us — if Health Ministry instructions are maintained. Without strict adherence to the instructions, the coronavirus is likely to come back and bring with it a shutdown of the economy.”
The bus drivers union welcomed the development.
“The drivers were at the forefront of the struggle against frustrated passengers who couldn’t use public transportation,” the union said in a statement.
The association called for the installation of screens to completely separate passengers and drivers as further protection.
Edelstein also met with Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper, and together they decided on a plan for restarting indoor cultural events next month.
From June 14 live indoor performances will be permitted in venues across the country with audiences of up to 75% capacity, with those attending maintaining social distancing and wearing masks. Tickets will only be available online, and only those who buy tickets together in one purchase will be permitted to sit together.
There are to be no intermissions during shows and the temperature of each member of the audience is to be taken at the entrance. If 75% capacity for a venue is more than 500 people, the event will require a special permit.
Entry to museums is also to be relaxed, with the number of visitors calculated on a basis of seven square meters per visitor to the museum rather than the current requirement of 15 square meters.
“It is about time for people to be able to enjoy cultural performances,” Edelstein said in a statement. “But this also can only continue if each of us fulfills Health Ministry orders.”
“I am glad that today we managed to provide some oxygen for the cultural world and that it will come back to life in time,” Tropper said. “This is a first and most important step on the way to resolving the crisis.”
Indoor cultural events and live performances are among the last activities still restricted under the lockdown measures applied over two months ago, and venue operators, as well as artists, have suffered economic hardships.
With concerts, plays and other events still banned, calls in recent days have grown for more government aid for musicians, performers and others.