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Who by prayer, who by protest: A guide for the lockdown perplexed

Rules for a locked down nation: What will be open/closed starting Friday at 2 p.m., what activities will be allowed/banned, and when you can travel over 1 kilometer from your home

An Israeli bride with a face mask walks at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem on September 15, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
An Israeli bride with a face mask walks at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem on September 15, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The government on Thursday morning approved sweeping lockdown measures, which are set to go into effect at Friday at 2 p.m. and remain in place for at least three weeks — but likely longer — amid skyrocketing COVID-19 rates across the country.

The rules, which must still be approved by a Knesset panel and could yet be revised, will keep Israelis within one kilometer of their homes through the Jewish holiday season, with a long list of exceptions — from shopping for groceries to a long morning run.

Below is a look at the rules and answers to common questions on the new health regulations.

What are the exceptions to the one kilometer rule?

Israelis must keep within 1000 meters of their homes, the rules say.

But there’s a long list of exceptions: going to work; purchasing food or essential supplies; aiding the elderly or those in need; going to a doctor’s appointment, including alternative medicine, or therapy; going to the Knesset; attending a protest; donating blood; participating in legal proceedings; exercising, alone or with members of the same household, provided the starting point is from home; attending a funeral or circumcision; going to the airport for an overseas flight; for women, travel to a ritual bath or mikveh; caring for animals.

Israelis wear protective face masks as they shop for the Jewish New Year at the market in Tzfat, on September 16, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Additional exceptions are made for: Cantors and shofar-blowers on the High Holidays, provided they receive government permission; transferring minors between divorced parents; and traveling to and from educational frameworks that remain open, including special education.

Residents of welfare programs or programs for people with disabilities and their relatives are permitted to move freely between the institutions and homes. First-degree relatives of fallen soldiers during the Yom Kippur War may attend memorials, the rules stipulate.

Israelis will be permitted to go out of bounds to purchase Sukkot holiday items, including the ritual lulav and etrog, the rules say, or perform the kapparot ritual.

Can I attend High Holiday services that are further than 1000 meters away?

No.

Jews pray for forgivness (Selichot) at the burial site of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in Meron, northern Israel, September 12, 2020, ahead of the Jewish New Year (David Cohen/Flash90)

What will prayer services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur look like under the new rules?

For outdoor services, no more than 20 may attend. Those attending must keep social distancing, with an empty seat between worshipers unless they are members of the same household, and no food can be served.

For indoor services, worshipers must be divided into groups of 10 or 25 (10 for so-called red cities with high infection rates; 25 for orange cities with moderate rates of infection), with the “capsules” separated by plastic. Worshipers must keep two seats of space between them and no food may be served.

Ultra Orthodox Jewish men pray at the synagogue, separated by plastic cells, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis, in the central Israeli city of Rehovot, on September 16, 2020. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

The total number of worshipers permitted indoors is dependent on the size of the synagogue and the local rate of infection. For “red” cities and areas, synagogues with two entrances can house up to 30 worshipers, with the number increasing by 20 per each additional entrance. For “orange” cities and towns, the rule is 50 worshipers per synagogue entrance. The synagogues must accommodate four square meters per worshiper, with this rule overriding the others.

Can I go to another person’s home during the lockdown?

The rules say no — unless you’re there to work or help a person in need.

The regulations also generally cap indoor gatherings at 10 people, and 20 outdoors.

A Jewish man blows the shofar on Jaffa street in Jerusalem on September 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

What stores will be open and what will be closed?

Restaurants, malls, swimming pools, gyms, hairdressers, hotels, other leisure services are closed.

Supermarkets, pharmacies, hardware/houseware stores, eyeglass stores, electronic stores, laundromats are deemed essential and will remain open.

While malls are closed, the essential stores within the malls, or within open-air markets, are permitted to remain open.

Israelis sit in restaurants and bars in Jerusalem, on September 17, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Are there any restrictions on protests?

Not according to the government decision released Thursday.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on August 29, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Will there be public transportation?

The emergency regulations lay out health rules for public transportation, indicating it will operate during the lockdown, though it remains unclear whether it will be scaled back.

Trains will cap capacity at 50%, and intra-city buses will be allowed to carry a maximum of 32 passengers. Intercity buses, meanwhile, may only take 30 passengers.

Tickets for the trains must be purchased in advance, while bus tickets must be activated by the passengers, except for people who require assistance from the driver. Eating is not permitted on board.

Taxis will only be allowed to take one passenger, unless the passengers are members of the same household or if the passenger requires an escort.

What about car travel? 

No more than three people may travel in the same car, except for members of the same family. For larger vehicles, another passenger is permitted per each additional row of seats.

What about the beach?

Sorry, folks. The beaches are closed. That is, unless you’re a jogger who lives nearby, though bathing will still be prohibited.

Israelis enjoy the hot weather at the beach in Tel Aviv September 05, 2020. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Will playgrounds and parks be closed, like during the spring lockdown?

No, parks and playgrounds remain open to residents who live within a 1000-meter radius.

An Israeli firefighter wearing protective clothes disinfects a public playground in the ultra-Orthodox town of Kiryat Ye’arim (Telz-Stone), on March 18, 2020, (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

What are the restrictions on workplaces?

In the public sector, the number of in-office workers will be reduced to 50 percent.

This does not apply to the private sector, which may continue operating under the existing health regulations, provided it does not offer in-person services or hold meetings with more than 10 people present.

What about schools?

Schools remain shut until further notice, but are not directly addressed in the government’s lockdown regulations.

Some educational programs, including special needs education, will continue operating as usual.

Elementary school students on September 1, 2020, their first day back at Tel Aviv’s Gabrieli school (Courtesy Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

What are the fines for violations?

The government has yet to confirm the fines for violations.

But Hebrew media reports say the fines will range from NIS 500 for personal violations of the rules to NIS 5,000 for businesses that open in defiance of the government’s orders to close.

Will it be enforced?

While police are expected to set up checkpoints to crack down on illegal movement, authorities have said they are largely counting on Israelis to cooperate and help drive down the infection rates.

Speaking to the Ynet news site on Thursday, Israel Police’s Gilad Bahat says police will fine those who break the prayer gathering rules or host house parties, but signals it may go easier on other rule-breakers.

Israeli police seen at the entrance to the neighborhood of Ramot in Jerusalem as Israel enforces a night curfew, applied to some 40 cities all over Israel which have been badly affected by the coronavirus. September 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“In places that don’t follow [the prayer rules], people will get fines. We will break up prayer services that blatantly violate the rules,” he says.

But he adds that police don’t intend to break down the doors to see if people are hosting guests for the holidays.

“On principle, we don’t intend to enter homes, certainly not,” he says.

“But the public is alert and reporting, and as we see places where there are [large] gatherings of people — like reports of house parties — we will be there,” adds Bahat.

When will it end?

No one knows. The regulations aren’t marked with an expiration date and officials have said it could well be extended.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, in closed door meetings, has warned the rules could also be tightened further if the infection rates don’t drop, Army Radio reported Thursday.

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch and Health Ministry Director General Chezy Levy have said a daily rate of 1,000 cases would be a sign the rules could be eased. The number of daily cases currently stands at over 4,000.

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