Coronavirus: Weekend restrictions lifted, skies could open by August 16

In slap in face of Netanyahu, coronavirus cabinet sides with new czar. "Stop light" program to be rolled out by Sept. 1.

Shoppers wear face masks and walk around a fashion shopping center in Ashdod, as restrictions over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) ease around Israel, May 5, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Shoppers wear face masks and walk around a fashion shopping center in Ashdod, as restrictions over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) ease around Israel, May 5, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Weekend restrictions will be canceled and the skies will hopefully be able to open by August 16, the coronavirus cabinet decided after a heated four-and-a-half hour meeting on Wednesday.
This Saturday, stores will legally be allowed to open and children can once again play at parks, the ministers decided.
National coronavirus project manager Prof. Ronni Gamzu said that the morbidity situation was worrying and that the goal is to significantly lower infection by September 1.
"No country with as high a morbidity level as Israel has dealt with morbidity without a lockdown," Gamzu said. "The government of Israel is sensitive to the delicate socio-economic situation and the hardships of the public. Therefore, it has placed its confidence in me for a path that does not include a full lockdown. It seems that this is the last opportunity for a moderate line. Should infection not decline within two weeks, we will be obliged to consider restrictions including the possibility of a local or nationwide lockdown."
"We have a week or two, and if we do not succeed in decreasing the numbers, we will convene again to decide on more drastic measures," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
The cabinet also approved an increased intervention model in “red” cities that was proposed by newly appointed coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu. Some 22 red and orange cities will face increased oversight, and families with a sick person will be assisted with being quarantined.
At the moment, they decided not to place additional restrictions on these cities, however there will be increased enforcement across the country to prevent gatherings.
The full list of decisions is as follows:
> Cancellation of the restriction on opening businesses over the weekend 
> Cancellation of the restriction on being present in public playgrounds 
> The nationwide restrictions that have been valid up until now will continue 
> As of September 1, the "traffic light plan" for managing the pandemic on a local authorities model will be implemented, according to the outline of the morbidity situation in each city
At the meeting, the commissioner presented a detailed version of this system for labeling coronavirus levels in different parts of the country, color-coding municipalities like traffic lights: green, yellow and red. His idea is to let the municipalities take a more active role in managing their constituents and partnering with the Health Ministry and the IDF to stop the spread of infection. This program was also approved and will go into effect on September 1 and is expected to be shared in full with the public before then.
Edelstein told the ministers that if there will be municipalities that do not cooperate, then tougher restrictions would quickly be approved.
Gamzu toured haredi (ultra-Orthodox) red cities earlier this week and is expected to arrange a similar tour of Arab municipalities as well.
The cabinet meeting dragged on due to tensions between Netanyahu and National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat on one side, and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Gamzu on the other.
With 1,726 new coronavirus patients on Tuesday and another 1,385 between midnight and press time Wednesday, and 345 people in serious condition, the prime minister wanted to see the nation put under lockdown. He and Ben-Shabbat were pushing for local, night time or weekend closures at a minimum, and maximally a full country-wide lockdown for the last two weeks of August.
In contrast, Gamzu said that Israel does not need to be locked down.
“A general closure is not an option – it is a last resort,” Gamzu said during the meeting. “The sick patients are not unmanageable.”
He said a closure would bring grave economic and social difficulties to the public.
“We need to deal with red zones and open up wherever we can,” Gamzu concluded.
Regarding opening the skies, the cabinet also authorized the health, transportation and foreign ministers, and the National Security Council, in consultation with the relevant ministries, to advance their outline for opening the skies by August 16, which will be submitted for approval by the coronavirus cabinet soon. The plan would allow the skies to open in some capacity by mid-month. 
Transportation Minister Miri Regev thanked the prime minister for giving the initiative a green light.
"Together with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, we will work to implement the outline that will allow the skies to open up and protect Israeli aviation," Regev said.
The national restrictions that were set to expire next Monday will be officially renewed in the upcoming days.
This was the second coronavirus cabinet meeting this week. The ministers met on Monday but stopped the meeting short after bickering led to no conclusions.
Scathing critiques from the cabinet meeting were presented by Army Radio on Tuesday: “Gamzu now has to deal with the real numbers and he seems a little at a loss,” an anonymous minister reportedly told the station.
Ministers claimed that Gamzu did not present a coherent outline or package of directives to manage the virus and therefore the ministers did not reach agreements. They told Army Radio that “what happened yesterday in the cabinet was embarrassing. The things that were said were mostly said last week in front of the camera – empty slogans and broad principles without any concrete proposal.”
But there was some good news for the health system on Wednesday.
Finance Minister Israel Katz announced that money has been transferred for the hospitals and health funds to start recruiting new nurses, who will be trained to treat patients in the winter when the flu and coronavirus are expected to hit the country at the same time.
“This is an important achievement for the nurses, who fought for their rights and the rights of all citizens of Israel to receive proper care,” said chairwoman of the Nurses’ Union Ilana Cohen.
“We will continue to work to ensure that the agreements [made with the Health and Finance ministries] are implemented in the state budget and on the ground.”
The allocated funds will be specifically used for hiring nurses to help relieve the heavy burden on the country’s medical staff, and not for any new beds, wards, institutes or clinics.
In total, the Finance and Health ministries have committed to hiring 2,000 nurses and 400 doctors, as well as several hundred support staff. The initial 1,500 new nursing positions will be added to the 2020 budget; the rest should be in the 2021 budget.
Late Tuesday night, a new committee convened to discuss enforcement of laws being violated by people and businesses not following Health Ministry directives. Sitting on the committee are Gamzu and Federation of Local Authorities head Haim Bibas, among others. The group will meet weekly to discuss all aspects of enforcement.