Preparations were being made at the Western Wall ahead of the weekend for the reopening of the holy site for prayer groups. The limited opening of the plaza starting Sunday was one of the decisions made by the government Thursday as coronavirus rates decline throughout the country.
The preparations included dividing the plaza into sections that will allow 20 worshipers each, in accordance with limitations on gatherings in open areas.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall, thanked the government for recognizing “the huge importance of the Western Wall as a unifying and comforting place of prayer during these difficult times for the entire Jewish nation.”
The site was largely closed off during the High Holiday season, only allowing a trickle of worshipers to pray at the site during a period of the year that usually sees many thousands flood the plaza every day.
On Thursday the high-level coronavirus cabinet voted to begin lifting lockdown restrictions starting on Sunday, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the decisions could change if infection rates rise over the weekend.
Ministers agreed to lift the limit on Israelis traveling more than one kilometer from home unless for specific permitted purposes; allow them to visit others’ homes so long as caps on gatherings are adhered to (10 indoors, 20 outdoors); reopen preschools and daycares; allow restaurants to serve takeout; permit businesses that don’t receive customers to open; allow Israelis to visit beaches and national parks; and reopen the Western Wall plaza and Temple Mount compound for worship under restrictions.
But Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Israel still had a long way to go to curb the virus.
Edelstein said virus numbers will likely rise slightly every time the government lifts some restrictions. He said the government may be forced to pull back and pause the gradual exit from the lockdown if infections spiral, but added that he “very much hopes” that doesn’t happen.
The first phase of reopening after a month-long nationwide closure is part of a Health Ministry plan for a gradual, several-month exit based on epidemiological benchmarks.
Health Ministry figures published Friday morning showed 1,608 new cases were confirmed throughout Thursday. The percentage of tests to come back positive dropped to 4.5 percent, the lowest figure in three months.