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Israel: Gov’t changes direction: Pools, schools, restaurants to remain open

Pools and restaurants will not be closed just yet, according to coalition chairman Mickey Zohar, who spoke Monday at the Knesset coronavirus committee meeting. Also, schools and camps will remain open at least until Thursday.

The committee gathered again in the Knesset for another discussion about the restrictions that the government announced last week. On Sunday, a heated debate erupted over beaches and pools, which are outdoors in open spaces and where the rates of coronavirus infection are lower.

“The decision not to close public pools and beaches is right and justified,” said MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, who heads the coronavirus committee. “The beaches and swimming pools are vital.”

On Twitter, opposition leader Yair Lapid also celebrated the decision: “Congratulations to the chairman of the committee, MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, and to the members of the coronavirus committee, who fought for the State of Israel.

Zohar also said that it is likely restaurants that operate in open spaces and can adhere to the Health Ministry’s “Purple Ribbon” standard should also be able to continue operating. According to Zohar, around 80% of restaurants have open spaces they can use.

The change of direction came on a day when the numbers reflected a positive shift downwards: Only 951 people were diagnosed with the novel coronavirus on Sunday, the Health Ministry reported Monday. Some 19,337 people were screened, dropping the infection rate to 5% from 7% the day before.

Some 259 people are in serious condition. So far, 415 people have died.

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch commented on the data at the meeting: “Yesterday was a day with a little better data. I do not know if there is a change in trend. You have to wait two or three days to see that.”

He urged the committee not to get too excited.

At the same time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Education Minister Yoav Gallant, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and other top officials. They decided that camps and schools would also not close at the current time.

Another discussion will take place on Thursday to re-evaluate the situation, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Kisch also commented on the Health Ministry’s new direction, which will likely be that closed spaces – halls, gyms – will stay closed, while open spaces in which gathering can be limited or spread out could be opened.

On Sunday, the committee received a presentation by the Health Ministry that demonstrated where most Israelis are getting infected. The top three places in which people caught coronavirus last week: home (1,474, or 67%), schools (210, or 9.5%), large events (123, or 5.6%).

The committee at the end of the day released a list of changes that it would likely request of the government:

  • Beaches and pools should stay open, but gathering should be limited
  • Restaurants should operate under “Purple Ribbon” status and be allowed to open at 35% occupancy, like hotel dining rooms
  • Gyms should stay open but could be required to limit occupancy to one person per 10 meters
  • Zoos, safaris and other trails and activities in open spaces should continue to operate
  • Tourist attractions in Eilat should be allowed to open.

“We all are working together to fight the virus,” Shasha-Biton added. “For all of us, economic, mental and physical health are extremely important.”

But Zohar pushed back that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are bothered by the committee because “the decisions made here could endanger the greater public… We have nothing personal against the committee chairwoman. We are seeing an increasing number of people infected each day and we understand that when we reach 1,000 critically ill patients, we may not be able to save some lives.”

Original: Maayan Jaffe Hoffman – JPost