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Israel Health Ministry plan sees schools shut Wednesday, lockdown begin 6 a.m. Friday

The Health Ministry is proposing starting the new national coronavirus lockdown at 6 a.m. Friday, September 18, and to close schools by Wednesday, September 16, according to widespread reports on Hebrew media Saturday, citing new details from the multi-phase closure plans.

The plan will be brought before the cabinet for approval Sunday.

The first phase, lasting at least two weeks, will see most Israelis limited to traveling 500 meters form their homes, except for essential needs such as food and medicine. All non-essential shops will be closed to the public, though allowed to make deliveries. Restaurants will be allowed to operate with takeout and deliveries only.

Workplaces will be allowed to operate at 30 percent capacity, or 10 employees — the higher of the two. Exceptions will be made for certain essential operations.

Public prayers on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will be allowed under certain limitations that have yet to be finalized, reports said, but the ministry is suggesting prayers in groups of 20 in open areas. In areas with high infection rates, indoor prayers will be held in groups of 10, with the number of groups dependent on the size of the space. In other areas, indoor prayers will be held in groups of 25, with the number of groups dependent on the size of the space.

Finance Ministry assessments say the cost to the country’s economy of the holiday closures will amount to NIS 18 billion ($5.2 billion) at the very least, Channel 12 said.

The second phase is slated to begin around October 1, subject to developments, and to last around two weeks.

It is being designated as an interim “tightened restraint” period, during which outdoor gatherings for the entire country will be capped at 50 people and indoor gatherings at 25. Transit between cities will not be allowed. Leisure and entertainment activities will remain closed. Business places will still be barred from receiving customers, and workplaces will be allowed to operate at 30%-50% capacity.

In the third and final phase, the government will reimpose the so-called “traffic light” plan, which addresses each city and town based on its morbidity rate.

With the country facing its second national lockdown and the government’s pandemic policies being widely perceived as disorderly and at times random, many businesses have vowed in recent days to defy closure orders, saying they will not survive a new shutdown. Meanwhile, top business leaders warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday that a new lockdown would be disastrous to the local economy.

Reports have indicated hundreds — and perhaps thousands — of business owners could refuse to shut down if closure orders come, being unable to withstand the financial burden of a further lockdown.

Business owners have said promises of compensation down the road are irrelevant, and that they will refuse to shut their doors unless they receive government aid in advance.

Channel 13 reported that the Manufacturers Association of Israel, the Chamber of Commerce and other business bodies wrote in a letter to the premier that a new lockdown would cause a further wave of unemployment and bring about “an ‘economic coronavirus’ whose effect will be far more destructive than the medical coronavirus,” and warned that the effects of the harm to the economy could be felt for a decade.

They said “the expected steps will cause mortal injury needlessly… businesses and the economy must not be closed down. We must learn to live alongside the coronavirus while maintaining [health] regulations and aggressive enforcement.”

Header: A police officer writes up a fine for a woman who was not wearing a mask in Jerusalem, on June 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Source: TOI