The government approved loosening a number of personal and business restrictions early Sunday for the first time since the outbreak of coronavirus in Israel, as the number of intubated patients continued to fall and less than 100 new people were infected with the disease.
Some 13,362 people have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus in Israel as of Sunday morning, according to the Health Ministry, showing signs that the spread is beginning to level out. So far, 171 people have died of SARS-CoV-2 and 3,456 have recovered. Among the latest dead is Israel's youngest victim: a 29-year-old who suffered from severe preexisting medical conditions. She was being treated at Hadassah Hospital. The next youngest patient to fall victim to the disease in Israel was 37.
Companies can now bring 30% of their employees into the office – up from 15%. In addition, the hi-tech sector and some other key industries are being given even greater flexibility, so long as they adhere to the directives of the Health Ministry.
“In order to cut the bureaucracy, they will not have to get a permit from the authorities, but [will have to] declare that they are working according to guidelines, and we will monitor that,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained Saturday night, noting that companies will receive a “purple ribbon” for ensuring they check their employees’ temperatures upon arrival, maintain hygienic standards in the office, enforce the wearing of masks and that people maintain a distance of two meters from each other, among other requirements.
On Sunday morning, the government provided companies with a detailed accounting of how to achieve and maintain purple ribbon status. Still, Finance Ministry Director-General Shai Babad reiterated that if workers can do their jobs from home it is still preferable.
Also, it is recommended that only healthy people under the age of 67 return to work. Those at high-risk of infection - with underlying medical conditions or over the age of 67 - are asked to stay home.
Stand-alone stores will be allowed to open and sell their products and services in most cases, though beauty and hair salons, and toy, clothing and shoe stores will remain closed, as well as malls and open-air markets.
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion wrote a letter to Netanyahu and Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman on Sunday informing them once again that the Jerusalem Municipality “is ready to take responsibility for the Mahane Yehuda open-air market, including putting in place municipal supervision to ensure that Health Ministry guidelines are enforced while stores open.
"The economic losses incurred by market traders in Mahane Yehuda, mostly defined as small and medium-sized businesses, are very large and there is a real concern for the total economic collapse of many of them,” Lion wrote.
Regarding the general public, individual sports may resume – up to 500 meters from one's home. People can also exercise in groups of two, as long as they maintain a consistent training partner. Any activity that meets these limits is allowed. Swimming at the beach, however, even if it is close to one’s home, is still prohibited.
In general, beaches, parks, playgrounds and municipal sports facilities are still closed.
Social visits are also still forbidden.
Walking and staying in other people's homes will not be possible - except for a transition between 3 families, who can be in regular contact to keep their children.
Prayer quorums in open spaces may also resume in groups of 19 people, as long as participants maintain a distance of two meters apart. In addition, up to 10 people can now attend circumcision ceremonies and weddings as long as guests maintain a distance of two meters from one another. Men can go to the mikveh as long as at any given time there are no more than three people on premise.
Special education has started to operate again in groups of up to three children, and three families can hire a caretaker for their children in order to go to work.
However, the general education system remains closed, as the Health Ministry strongly opposed schools, claiming school grounds are a festering ground for coronavirus contagions.
The Education Ministry and other senior officials are set to meet again this week to continue the discussion and a decision about the next steps for education should be made before the weekend.
Furthermore, the government will now allow zoos, safaris and national parks to operate, too, for the purpose of holding an activity in an open place intended for a person with a disability and in accordance with the guidelines of the Health Ministry.
In order to facilitate the increased public activity, public transportation has been boosted accordingly.
The new regulations are in effect until April 30. During that time, the Health Ministry will continue to test people for coronavirus and closely monitor the trend line.
Netanyahu Saturday night highlighted that "if the rate of infection continues to slow, and there is stabilization of the number of severely sick, there will be more relief; if not, we will reinstate harsher measures.”
Similarly, on Sunday, Finance Ministry budget-director Shaul Meridor said that authorities are likely to enable the reopening of all retail stores after Independence Day (March 29) should positive health trends continue.
"In terms of retail, we see great demand both from consumers and many employees, usually with low wages," Meridor told Army Radio on Sunday. "This is the start, and we have opened less than half of all shops. If we continue to see positive trends, I believe that after Independence Day, we will see the full opening of retail shops - of course, according to the current [Health Ministry] requirements."
Meridor said measures approved by the government on Sunday morning will enable more than two million people to open their businesses fully, as long as they meet the "purple seal" criteria. Whoever can work from home, should still work from home, he said.
Despite the shift, people will still be asked to wear masks in public, keep a distance of two meters from one another, wash their hands regularly and not travel more than 100 meters from home unless engaging in an approved activity.
During the late-night meeting, which ran from 1:30 a.m. to nearly 7 a.m., Ministers Gilad Erdan and Ze'ev Elkin pushed to have the distance-from-home restrictions removed, but the Health Ministry director-general and head of the National Security Council wanted to keep these restrictions in place and Netanyahu back them, according to N12.
The government decided that anyone who is seen in public without a mask will first be given a warning and then will be fined NIS 200 for any subsequent offenses. The restriction does not apply to children under the age of six. It also does not have to be worn while traveling in the car with family members.