The government will meet Monday to review plans to lift additional restrictions, as the number of coronavirus active cases continues to decline in Israel, with 6,227 as of Sunday night.The Health and Finance ministries have drafted comprehensive plans which will lead to a complete reopening of the economy. Both outlines, which diverge on some issues, will be presented to the cabinet at the Monday morning meeting. The Health Ministry’s road map is divided according to sectors, addressing a vast range of issues, including visiting family and friends and reopening cultural and sports institutions.
The document highlights that Israel can start implementing less-restrictive measures thanks to the good results it has achieved so far in containing the disease. But the situation could rapidly change, and new restrictions could be implemented.
Specifically, it said the outline is designed for a scenario in which the number of new cases per day is lower than 300, “of whom 100 are from the community and 200 from abroad, institutions and centers of outbreak,” and the total number of patients in serious condition is lower than 300.
Regarding the education system, after students in first to third, 11th and 12th grades and special-education programs went back to school on Sunday, kindergartens and preschools will resume activities on May 10 “or later,” provided that children are divided into smaller groups.
Informal education programs, seminars, post-high-school nonacademic programs are set to start again on May 31, as well as grades fourth to 10th (according to the Finance Ministry, they would resume on May 17).
Regarding commercial activities, the ministry said malls and markets will be allowed to open on May 17, as long as no more than one person per 15 square meters is allowed in. Also hotels with no common areas are going to be allowed to restart activities on May 17, while tzimmers (single-room vacation cabins) can already function from Sunday, although for both, the ministry specified that the facilities need to follow the instructions provided by the Tourism Ministry. The Finance Ministry’s plan allows malls to open on Tuesday.
According to the Health Ministry plan, from Sunday people are allowed to see immediate family as well as grandparents, and from May 10 relatives and friends up to 10 people, while wearing masks and keeping distance will be required. General outdoor gatherings, weddings and funerals up to 19 people and keeping a distance of two meters were authorized again starting on Sunday. On May 17, the number of people who can assemble is going to be increased to 50 people.
While national parks would be allowed to open their gates immediately if the plan is approved, a number of cultural, sports and recreational activities are going to do so on May 17, including museums, libraries, gyms, studios, swimming pools and zoos. All of them are required to maintain a limited number of visitors and other safety measures. Shows can resume according to the general gathering road map.
Restaurants and event venues will be permitted to open their doors on June 15, while the Finance Ministry indicated May 31.
Individual sports or group sports that do not require contact will be allowed to resume from May 10, while sports activities that require contact will need to wait another week. Professional group sports, including soccer and basketball, are going to resume on June 15.
Regarding international traveling, the plan postpones the issue to a later discussion.
Earlier in the day, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said he would promote the idea of stopping the need for all travelers returning to Israel from abroad from automatically entering quarantine hotel facilities.
Bennett, who at the beginning of the crisis promoted the idea, said the cost of having travelers stay in the hotels would continue to rise as more and more people enter the country as the spread of the pandemic starts to lower. Bennett, who spoke via videoconferencing, said it was the correct decision at the start of the crisis, but due to the rising costs of NIS 750 million a month and the psychological effects on those staying in the hotels, the time had come to cancel the policy.
He said he would encourage the cabinet for the malls and public libraries to reopen.
After the Finance Ministry presented its outline, Manufacturers Association of Israel president Ron Tomer, speaking on behalf of the Presidium of Israeli Business Organizations, welcomed the reported proposals.
“We welcome that finally a clear and organized plan is being published that will enable all sectors of the economy to be prepared in advance, rather than with just a few hours’ notice,” he said.
Sunday morning, schools in most of the country opened their gates for the first time in nearly two months after the cabinet voted to recommence in-school learning for children in first to third grades and 11th to 12th grades.
However, schools did not resume activities on Sunday in several municipalities, including Tel Aviv-Jaffa, which rejected the government’s decision, officially confirmed only on Friday. Local representatives said they were not given enough time or practical guidelines for reopening the education system, adding that they believed they would be unable to implement the move in a safe manner. Most of them are planning to open within the next few days.
Moreover, 40% of Jerusalem students returned to their classrooms, according to Channel 13. Countrywide, the percentage was about 60% in areas where schools did open.
The first day was a “day of celebrations,” Education Minister Rafi Peretz told Channel 12.
The return to be routine will be achieved gradually, and it is not by chance that the ministry decided to let children back to school on a voluntary basis so that parents could decide to keep them home, he said.
“Tomorrow, another 25% of children will go, and the day after we are aiming at 90, 95% of the children back, and the same with school networks,” Peretz said.
He said he hopes that next Sunday all kindergarten and preschools will start functioning again.
A problem with the reopening of the rest of the grades is that students are divided into smaller groups, and therefore there is a shortage of classrooms and space.
Peretz said if things go well, he hopes all grades will return to school during May or by the beginning of June, possibly with some rotational system between grades.
Earlier in the day, the Education Ministry announced that teachers over the age of 65, with preexisting conditions or with close family members with preexisting conditions, do not have to return to work.
Those same teachers would need a permission form signed by their family doctor. Their pay will be transferred at the expense of their sick days. In addition, teachers who have children whose schools are not reopening and must care for them will not be permitted to return to work but will be put on unpaid leave.
The number of active cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has been steadily declining in Israel since April 15, when it reached the peak of 10,156.
Of the active cases, 310 are currently hospitalized, with 103 in serious condition, including 82 intubated, also confirming a decreasing trend. The number of victims of the outbreak in the country has reached 232.
Tamar Beeri, Gil Hoffman and Maayan Hoffman contributed to this report.