Fate of schools to be decided as early as Sunday * Death toll nears 200, only 99 intubated

Israeli policemen walk past a vendor sorting through items before closing his shop at a market in Jerusalem (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Israeli policemen walk past a vendor sorting through items before closing his shop at a market in Jerusalem (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)


Israelis will wake up on Sunday to a new and less restrictive reality, after the Cabinet on Friday approved emergency regulations to further restore the Israeli economy in the shadow of the coronavirus crisis.

Stores in the public sphere will open, as well as hairdressers and beauty salons and restaurants and cafes for pickup and takeaway. Caregivers may return to work.

Ministers and the top-tier of the education system are expected to meet about when to open schools on Sunday, too.

The moves come as the Health Ministry reports that 199 people have died, and 15,298 have been infected with SARS-CoV-2. Currently, there are 127 people in serious condition, among them 99 who are intubated. The numbers reflect a positive trend: serious cases continue to drop almost daily, and the total number of active cases is down to 8,664 people.

The new regulations are valid through May 3 and the Prime Minister’s Office said that measures to further ease restrictions after that date would be evaluated based on the level of infection.

N12 revealed that the government has rolled out a formal set of criteria by which to evaluate next steps. If the current trend continues, restrictions will decrease. If the country sees the number of patients per day increase to more than 300 daily or the number of infected people doubles in a period of 10 days, then restrictions will be increased.

The decision to define a set of specific criteria came after Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit accused the prime minister and the cabinet of making decisions “arbitrarily, without clear criteria and transparent indices.” Mandelblit said that the High Court would not intervene at present, “but if emergency regulations continue to be approved this way – the court may not be able to resist.”

Although the government chose to ease regulations on businesses, thousands of Israelis cannot return to work because they are home with young children.

Over the weekend, the Histadrut sent a heated letter to the prime minister in which it was explained that “gradually opening up the economy without a solution for working parents is an attempt to save the economy with one eye closed.” The letter called on the prime minister to respond swiftly and “appropriately.”

The plan on the table for Sunday’s meeting involves minimally opening up infant-care facilities, preschools and grades 1 through 3 on May 3. As of now, no target date had been set for the rest of the grades. Classes will be of no more than 15 kids at a time.

Furthermore, there is discussion that distance learning programs will be cut to 50% and teachers then required to make up the missing class time for no extra pay in July. In other words, for every two days of distance learning, one day of learning will be made up during what would have been summer vacation.

Back to what the country will look like on Sunday: At restaurants, owners will be required to install a partition between staff and customers to prevent the transfer of droplets. Employees will be required to be scheduled into consistent shifts to avoid mass infection, and these same employees must wear masks and gloves.

Stores will be required to take the temperature of its customers as they enter the premises and to inquire about any symptoms they might have. Business owners will also need to monitor that shoppers and staff maintain a two-meter distance between them, including at the entrances to their stores, where customers will be asked to wait if too many people are already inside. Owners must appoint a staffer to oversee ensuring coronavirus regulations are followed, including disinfecting internal surfaces and wearing gloves and masks.

Hair and beauty salons will need to follow the most stringent policies, due to the obvious contact between client and service provider. These shops will be required to disinfect equipment,
including surfaces, tools, chairs, towels and smocks between haircuts or treatments. Moreover, technicians will need to wear face guards that cover their eyes in addition to the masks that cover their mouths and noses.

At all stores and restaurants, no more than two to four people can be in a checkout line at the same time, depending on the size of the establishment. Hair and beauty parlors can have two to eight customers, also depending on size.

Before opening, all stores must submit a signed declaration to their local authority indicating that they will do their utmost to maintain the conditions laid out by the Health Ministry.
Businesses who violate the rules will be subject to a NIS 2,000 fine.

Social distancing and hygienic practices will still be enforced. The Cabinet determined that anyone over the age of 7 – an increase of one year from the previous restrictions – will be required to wear a mask in public and that fines will not be levied on a first offense. A team of inspectors overseen by local authorities and the Nature and Parks Authority will be charged with monitoring and enforcing these regulations.

Despite the eased restrictions, a long list of fashion retailers and cafes said they will not open their doors to or serve the public, Israeli media reported.

Approximately 200 major chains including Fox, Castro, Roladin and Japanika will remain shut as part of a strike announced last week, said N12. Business owners have vowed not to reopen until a compensation plan is formulated by the government for large companies.

The government approved an additional NIS 8 billion in financial aid for small businesses and self-employed workers on Friday, and a special “adaptation” grant for workers aged over 67 who have found themselves out of work. The financial aid package for small businesses will include a grant of up to NIS 400,000 based on fixed costs and reduced revenues and includes the second payment of the extended grant for self-employed workers – up to 70% of taxable income or a maximum of NIS 10,500.

The latest financial aid follows criticism regarding the apparent inaccessibility of an NIS 8b.
government-guaranteed loan fund for small and medium-sized businesses. Figures published on Wednesday showed an improvement in the processing of applications, with almost 6,500 loans now approved – valued at a total of approximately NIS 2.5b.

New data published by the Israeli Employment Service on Thursday showed that over 995,000 Israelis have applied for unemployment support since the start of March, bringing the unemployment rate to an unprecedented total of 27.05%. Among them, 88% are employees placed on unpaid leave and 7.2% were made redundant.

A total of 3,840 employees placed on unpaid leave at the start of the crisis have informed the Employment Service of their return to work during the week. It is believed that several thousand more have returned to work, but not yet updated the authorities.

The Health Ministry continues to increase daily coronavirus testing, taking 13,861 tests on April 23 and 11,799 on the 24th.

The Mossad delivered an additional 1,000 molecular testing kits to Israel on Friday, according to a report by N12. Included in the delivery were ventilators, flasks for producing hand-sanitizing gel, reagents used to develop coronavirus tests in the lab and an HIV drug from India that is currently being used to treat patients infected with the coronavirus.

Also last week, the Health and Defense ministries signed an agreement with MyHeritage to establish and operate a new, independent lab that can process as many as 10,000 coronavirus tests daily. It will be run by MyHeritage staff using equipment from the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI).

As reported by The Jerusalem Post