The government on Sunday night approved virus czar Ronni Gamzu’s plan to stem the COVID-19 pandemic by addressing each city and town based on its morbidity rate.
The plan, known as “traffic light,” is meant to differentiate between locales based on their respective coronavirus infection rates, with “red” places subject to the strictest restrictions followed by “orange,” “yellow,” and “green” ones, with the latter enjoying the loosest rules regarding crowds in outdoor and indoor spaces.
The plan goes into effect on September 6, and doesn’t apply to schools. It also does not appear to keep residents of highly infected areas away from mass gatherings elsewhere.
But what exactly does it include and how will it be enforced?
The ‘traffic light’ specifics
According to the traffic light plan, published for the first time by the Health Ministry on Sunday night, each locale will be given a score between 0 and 10 every two weeks.
That number will be calculated based on several factors, including the number of new cases per 10,000 residents, the rate of positive tests in each town, and the rate of increase in the number of new patients in each town.
The scores for each municipality, including the data used to reach the respective figures, will be made public.
Cities and towns that receive an average score of 7.5 or higher will be defined as “red”; between 6 and 7.5 will be “orange;” between 5 and 6 will be “yellow;” and below 4.5 will be “green.”
In red areas, outdoor gatherings will be capped at 20 people, and indoor gatherings at 10.
In orange areas, outdoor gatherings will be capped at 50 people and indoor ones at 25. At a public open space, or one belonging to a private business, gatherings will be allowed to fill 40 percent of the maximum capacity specified in the place’s license (or one person per four square meters, if capacity is unspecified), and indoor gatherings will be capped at 20%.
In yellow areas, outdoor gatherings will be capped at 100 people, with outdoor public spaces of those belonging to businesses limited to 60% of maximum capacity. Indoor gatherings will be capped at 50 people and public spaces or those belonging to a private business will be capped at 40% of capacity.
In green areas, gatherings of up to 250 will be allowed outdoors and 100 will be allowed indoors. At a public open space or one belonging to a private business, gatherings will be allowed to fill 80% of maximum capacity, while indoor gatherings will be capped at 60%.
In all businesses, regardless of whether they’re in a red, orange, yellow or green area, no more than one person will be allowed per four square meters (43 square feet).
Guidelines for events
Specific rules have been issued for organized events that don’t include food.
Outdoor events require marked seating spots; separation of at least two meters or one empty seat between people who don’t live together; division into areas with no more than 20 people each, with at least two meters’ separation between the areas; markings separating the different areas; and stewards enforcing that separation.
The number of participants allowed will be in accordance with the area’s designated color-coded category, as stated above. However, events in green or yellow areas will be allowed to host more people if the municipality or council determine that the above requirements are met — up to 500 people. And if the Health Ministry director general grants authorization, more than 500 will be allowed.
For indoor seated events without food, the capacity will depend on the number of entrances. The number of people allowed will be in accordance with the area’s color-coded category, multiplied by the number of entrances, but not more than one person per four square meters.
No more than 1,000 people will be allowed at such an event, and participants will be divided into “capsules,” with each capsule only containing people who came in through the same entrance.
Event halls in green or yellow areas will be allowed to host outdoor events that involve food for up to 100 people, not including workers. Such events will be seated only and without dancing.
Other public places
In shopping malls, museums, nature reserves, national parks, heritage sites and holy sites, no more than one person per seven square meters (75 square feet) will be allowed.
In eateries, grocery stores and drugstores, the number of people allowed will be either as specified in the “traffic light” model or one person per seven square meters — the more lenient of the two options.
Special rules for synagogues over the High Holiday season will allow up to 1,000 people indoors in huge venues, or one person for every four square meters. The exact number of participants is based on the color-coded category of the area, the size of the venue, the number of entrances, and the space per worshiper.
Worshipers will be divided into permanent groups, with each group assigned an entrance. People who don’t live together will be seated at least two meters apart, or with at least two empty seats between them. Each group will be placed in an area separated by a physical barrier and at least two meters to prevent passage between the areas.
One person must be assigned to oversee the entire division, seating and entry arrangements. A sign must be put up at the building’s entrance with the size of the place, the allowed number of worshipers and the name of the person overseeing the arrangements.
Outdoor prayers can be held with separation into different areas with permanent groups of no more than 20 people in each area, provided that distancing rules are kept. Areas must be separated by at least two meters, with a physical barrier between them such as a ribbon or rope, and designated people enforcing the division into groups and the separation.
If more than 250 people are expected to attend a service — either indoors or outdoors — a detailed sketch of the planned seating and separation must be approved by the local authorities and health office.
The guidelines published Sunday by the Health Ministry are not entirely clear, and more specific guidelines for synagogues are likely to be published before the High Holiday season, which begins September 18.
How will the plan be implemented?
An inter-ministerial team will be able to grant a different classification for a particular neighborhood in a town or a particular community within a regional council, based on accurate morbidity data, if that specific area is substantially different from its surroundings in terms of morbidity data.
That team will be led by the Health Ministry and include the Prime Minister’s Office, the National Security Council, the Bank of Israel and the ministries of finance, interior, defense and economy.
A separate steering committee will be tasked with developing aid plans for the various municipalities and local and regional councils, including for law enforcement, help in cutting infection chains, educational material and help for residents.