Event halls to open Sunday despite consistent coronavirus surge

Beaches packed over the weekend * More schools closed * PM’s security guards infected

Israel's beach fronts are packed with visitors - June 13, 2020 (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
Israel's beach fronts are packed with visitors - June 13, 2020
Event halls will open Sunday for weddings and religious events, and the beaches were so crowded over the weekend that many of them had to turn visitors away, despite the number of coronavirus cases continuing to rise.
The Kinneret Towns Association said that some 20,000 visitors lined the lake’s beach fronts, forcing them to send out a message to the public that they should go somewhere else.
On Saturday night, the Health Ministry reported that 18,972 people have been infected with coronavirus – up 177 since the night before. In terms of active cases: 3,315, an increase of 130 in one day.
So far, 35 patients are in serious condition – up two from Friday – among them 26 who are ventilated. In total, 300 people have died.
Among the newly infected are three of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security guards who work at his residence in Jerusalem. The guards work outside the house and are not in direct contact with Netanyahu, who therefore is not required to enter isolation.
The Prime Minister’s Office said he was screened for the virus a few days ago and tested negative.
In addition, during Shabbat, the President’s House was informed that one of its staff members had tested positive for coronavirus. However, in line with instructions from the Health Ministry, President Reuven Rivlin is not required to self-isolate at this stage, his spokesperson said.
On May 4, as Netanyahu lifted restrictions, he warned the country that there are three ways the easing of restrictions could be halted: should there be 100 new daily cases of infection – excluding individuals arriving from abroad, outbreaks in retirement homes and those living in towns or cities currently defined as outbreak hot spots; should the rate of infections return to doubling itself within 10 days; or should the number of patients in serious condition reach 250.
So far, Israel has crossed red lines in two of the three categories, with an average of around 200 people being diagnosed per day. 
Although some of the patients are from designated “red zones,” included the Bedouin towns of Arara, Hura and Rahat in the south, southern Tel Aviv, the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community of Bnei Brak and haredi areas of Jerusalem and Safed, around 70% appear to be from other localities that are not labeled as problematic. This means that the virus is active across Israel.
One reason for this could be the increase in testing. Last month, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced a change in testing policy that has allowed the country to test as many as 17,000 people per day – there were 12,578 people tested on Friday. The more people who are screened, the more positive results there will be.
However, Israel has also crossed the second red line, with the country’s pace of infection doubling in 10 days or less, as well.
The only line that has not been crossed is the number of seriously ill patients. On Saturday, there were 35. Part of the reason for this is likely that much of the infection has started in the schools and the sick are therefore younger people. The Health Ministry showed that around 20% of positive cases are 20-29, as opposed to less than 10% who are over 70.
Looking at Safed, for example, the Corona National Information and Knowledge Center showed that while the infection rate has spiked in the city, more than half the patients are under the age of 20 and 22% of cases were contracted at school.
Some 45% caught corona at synagogue and 33% from home.
At least three more schools were closed over the weekend, two in Pardes Hanna and one in Holon, bringing the total to 177 schools and preschools that cannot operate because of the virus.
There are 493 students and teachers infected and 25,821 are in isolation, the Education Ministry reported.
Most of the morbidity is in Jerusalem (41%), Tel Aviv (15%) and Bnei Brak schools (4%).
Despite the spike, the government on Friday announced that it had approved and was moving forward with opening the wedding and event halls today for up to 250 people.
Some 25,000 couples registered to be married in the coming weeks, according to Edelstein.
“Even at these joyous events, adhere to the Health Ministry guidelines: wearing masks, hygiene and keeping two-meters distance,” Edelstein said as the government announced its decision.
The government approved the opening of the halls for only weddings or religious events, such as bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies. The number of people at the event cannot exceed 250, and the space must be large enough for all guests to have their own two square meters.
Hall operators are required to record the names and numbers of all guests and keep it for 20 days after an event.
Any non-wedding or non-religious ceremony is still required to adhere to previous guidelines of up to 50 people gathering at a time.
Breaking the rules is considered a criminal offense.
Moreover, the government extended all other emergency regulations through June 21 – three months from when they were originally implemented.
Although no other changes to the current guidelines were made, the cabinet is expected to reconvene next week.