Israel economy reopens for business under coronavirus rules

All of industry, most retail trade and services were released from coronavirus closure by a cabinet decision on Friday, April 24, with malls, markets and schools to follow after next week’s Independence Day events. Face masks, social distancing and strict hygiene are mandatory. The government reacted to a hail of protest from traders echoed by the ministers. Yakov Litzman, unwilling to continue facing the music, asked PM Binyamin Netanyahu to relieve him of the health ministry. His director general, Moshe Barsimantov, who charts the coronavirus war, was the favorite bogeyman. He is castigated on a variety of charges, including deliberate foot- dragging, muddled criteria for easing restrictions and lack of transparency on data.

From Sunday, hairdressers, barbershops and beauty salons may reopen for business’ restaurants may offer a takeaway service as well as deliveries. but no seating. Shops are ordered to place barriers between sales staff and customers, limit the number of shoppers in the store and take their temperatures with a digital thermometer at the entrance. Barbers must wear facial protection and gloves that are changed for each customer. Infractions of these guidelines are punishable by six months prison.

DEBKAfile reported earlier: The open-air markets were already defying ministry guidelines and setting out stalls. They pointed to the stampede of masked shoppers swarming through Ikea, which was allowed to reopen as “a furniture store.”  Many street stores permitted to reopen have outlets in the shopping malls, which are ordered to remain closed, along with schools. Restaurant and cafe owners reported their business had crashed beyond saving. The number of jobless had climbed to 1,125, a result of economic closures and shuttered schools.   

They all pointed at Europe which is seen to have exited from the coronavirus emergency regime way ahead of Israel. The government’s aid package was dismissed as too late and too little to alleviate the hardship caused by long weeks of covid-19 lockdown.

The pressure to reopen the economy gained massive support this week from a rare ganging-up between traditional enemies, heads of industry and retail trade and the Histadrut Trade Unions Federation.

Simantov stood by his argument that the sudden spike in coronavirus infections to 14,882 on Friday resulted from the public’s premature loosening up on social distancing restrictions in order to go shopping, back to work and family events. He urged another two-week wait for evaluating results before lifting more restrictions. He was shouted down. The health official attributed the stable numbers of hospital cases (139) and steadily reduced number of patients on ventilators (107) to former public discipline which, he said. must be maintained.

PM Netanyahu, who makes the decisions, keeps an attentive ear to the ground to gauge the weight of opposition. He responded when it became thunderous. He was already under heavy fire for his decision to close military cemeteries to grieving families on Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Terror Victims which takes place next Monday.

The Health Ministry has asked the ministerial committee on coronavirus to declare two small towns – Beit Shemesh outside Jerusalem and Netivot in the south – “restriction areas” under lockdown due to the high levels of virus infection there. Some neighborhoods in Jerusalem remain under closure.

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