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Thousands of Israelis head to beaches, markets, flouting social distancing rules

Police on Friday reportedly expressed concern that thousands of Israelis were flouting social distancing rules and flocking to beaches and markets, warning that they would still fine violators.

Hundreds of people took advantage of the warm weather to spend time outside, heading to beaches in Tel Aviv and Herzliya, many of them not keeping to distancing rules and not wearing masks. Others thronged to markets to shop ahead of the Sabbath or were just hanging out in outdoor spaces, like Tel Aviv’s iconic Dizengoff Sqaure.

A senior police official told Channel 13 news that there was a “significant weakening of discipline” among the public regarding adherence to coronavirus restrictions and said police were still enforcing restrictions.

As the number of new infections has slowed, the government has begun loosening restrictions meant to contain the pandemic, such as lifting the limit on the distance Israelis can exercise from their homes and allowing many businesses to reopen.

However, it has also kept in a place a ban on traveling more than 100 meters from one’s home if not for a permitted activity, while requiring Israelis to wear a mask outside and urging them to follow social distancing directives.

In Jerusalem, Mayor Moshe Lion arrived at the popular Mahane Yehuda market with inspectors to fine people who were not following rule. Video from the scene showed dozens of people crowded together as they shopped.

In the city of Ashdod, police fined two seminary students for allegedly taking part in prayers on the roof of their yeshiva in violation of restrictions.

Video aired by the Kan public broadcaster shows a large group of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators standing outside the Grudna Yeshiva and yelling at the police.

Some 55,000 citations have been handed out in the last several weeks for infractions, including not wearing a mask or being more than 100 meters from home to breaking quarantine or isolation orders. The fines range from NIS 200 to NIS 5,000 ($57-$1,440).

According to the police, fines can be handed out for “violations related to quarantine and reporting requirements; disobeying instructions to disperse a forbidden assembly; violations related to operating businesses or shops; going out into the public space in a prohibited manner, in contravention of regulations; loitering in the public space in a prohibited location; prayer in contravention of regulations; violations related to the requirement to wear or carry a face mask; and additional prohibitions set out in regulations.”

New guidelines approved by the government this week slap a NIS 200 fine on anyone over the age of 7 caught without a face mask when in public, including first-time offenders, who previously got away with a warning.

Under the rule, masks covering the mouth and nose must be worn “anywhere outside the residence.” Business owners must also deny entry and service to customers who are not wearing masks.

The rule, however, does not apply to people with emotional, mental or medical conditions that would prevent them from wearing a mask, drivers in their cars, people alone in a building, and two workers who work regularly together, provided they maintain social distancing.

Additionally, police said Thursday that over 200 criminal cases have been opened “related to quarantine violations, violating a lawful instruction and spreading the virus,” and some 150 businesses have been shuttered “for violation of the regulations.”

A nationwide curfew ended Wednesday evening as Israel’s 72nd Independence Day came to a close, with further restrictions aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus set to be eased in the coming days.

Restrictions on physical exercise outdoors were partly lifted Thursday morning, with sports enthusiasts no longer limited to a distance of 500 meters from home, in accordance with a cabinet decision earlier this week.

Group sports are still prohibited.

The restriction preventing citizens from going more than 100 meters from their homes except for specified activities (work, shopping, sports, etc.) is still in effect. However, it will likely be removed early next week, as police have said they cannot enforce it with so many other restrictions eased.

Swimming in the sea and visiting beaches is still prohibited.

Outdoor markets could also open next week, subject to social distancing limitations.

Header: Israelis shop at a market in Ramle on May 1, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Original: TOI Staff