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First day since late March with no new COVID-19 fatalities

With no new virus deaths recorded, 15,000 Israelis visit nature reserves, parks

Sites across the country packed on first Saturday since they reopened amid eased coronavirus restrictions; only three new cases overnight

Illustrative: Visitors at the Banias National Park in northern Israel after easing of the first coronavirus lockdown, May 9, 2020 (Screen grab/Ynet)
Illustrative: Visitors at the Banias National Park in northern Israel after easing of the first coronavirus lockdown, May 9, 2020 (Screen grab/Ynet)

Some 15,000 Israelis on Saturday visited national parks and nature reserves throughout the country, after the sites were given the go ahead to reopen as Israel eases its coronavirus restrictions.

It was the first weekend since the government approved the reopening of nature reserves and national parks amid a sustained drop in new virus infections. Israel on Saturday morning reported no new deaths over the past day, the first 24-hour period since March 28 in which no new fatalities were recorded.

Among the sites that drew the most visitors were Caesarea, Beit Guvrin and the Ein Gedi reserve near the Dead Sea, parts of which were closed due to concerns of flash floods. A number of other sites in the area were also closed.

Only 20 parks across the country reopened Tuesday in accordance with an Israel Nature and Parks Authority plan that was approved by the Health Ministry, though additional sites could be reopened soon.

Visitors to the Apollonia National Park in Herzliya, May 9, 2020 (Screen grab/Ynet)

To meet the Health Ministry’s social distancing guidelines, the parks authority is limiting the number of people who can visit a given site at the same time and requiring visitors to purchase their entry tickets in advance.

It has also not yet reopened sites where swimming is normally allowed with a life guard.

Unlike Friday, when warm weather prompted many Israelis to visit beaches despite their continued closure, rain and strong winds early Saturday appeared to keep many visitors away from them such as on the Sea of Galilee, whose shores were battered by choppy waters.

Overnight, a 30-year-old man nearly drowned in the Sea of Galilee near Tiberias and according to Channel 12 news was in critical condition in the coronavirus unit at a nearby hospital after he was found to have COVID-19.

Twelve people who helped rescue and treat the man, an Eritrean national, were required to enter self-quarantine, the Ynet news site reported.

The reopening this week of parks and many businesses comes as the number of new coronavirus infections in Israel has dropped significantly in recent weeks, with only three new cases reported overnight.

There have been 16,444 confirmed COVID-19 infections in Israel since the start of the pandemic, 4,886 of which are active cases.

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