Even for Israelis, hardly strangers to being checked on entry to public buildings, having their temperature taken before shopping or working out will remain a novel experience for some time.
For the first time in two months, security guards armed now with both handguns and forehead “thermometer guns” welcomed customers returning to the country’s malls, markets and gyms on Thursday morning. Permission to reopen their doors and stores was approved by the government earlier this week, responding to a steady decline in coronavirus infection rates.
Fears regarding crowding in malls may yet be realized in the coming weeks, but footfall remained very light on Thursday, likely resulting from a combination of hesitant customers, the partial return of children to in-school education, the continued closure of food halls, and financial insecurity for many would-be shoppers.
By Thursday afternoon, some stores and stalls remained shuttered. In some others, staff were still reorganizing their window displays and shelves, and lacking a sense of urgency.
“Usually this place is bursting with people,” one clothing store employee at Kfar Saba’s G Mall told The Jerusalem Post. “Look outside, there are very few customers. I’m sure it will return closer to normal levels in the next couple of weeks.”
Most store owners at the popular mall, north-east of Tel Aviv, said they had only told half of their young staff to return from unpaid leave. Other employees will need to wait patiently until custom picks up.
In regular times, Thursday is the busiest day of the week at Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market, with people flocking from all over the city to do their Shabbat shopping at the grocery stalls or to mark the beginning of the weekend by enjoying one of its many cafes and restaurants.
However, the first day that the shuk – as the market is known among locals – was allowed to reopen was far from a success, several vendors told the Post.
“I’m worried, I’m afraid customers have all got used to going to the supermarket,” Yossi, the owner of a fruit and vegetable stand, explained. “Getting ready to reopen was not easy and now there are no people.”
Some vendors explained that they tried to apply for the financial assistance the government has provided for small businesses, but they did not succeed.
Like other facilities, outdoor markets were allowed to reopen under several restrictions, but the general attitude, of both sellers and shoppers, appeared very relaxed. The theoretical distance of two meters between patrons seemed to be hardly ever observed, including in the line to have the temperature taken before accessing the area. Moreover, if most people were wearing masks as required, many simply kept them down on their necks or just covering their mouths.
“I’m not so worried about being infected. I work in a hospital, so if it has to happen, it is more likely to happen while I’m there,” Hanni told the Post while shopping for Shabbat – while wearing a mask in the correct way. “I live in the area and I’m used to doing my shopping here. I’m very happy the market has reopened,” she added.
Despite concerns due to the alleys that indeed look much emptier than usual, maybe due to the many cafes still closed, some vendors expressed some optimism.
“We had to throw away a lot of produce and we lost a lot of money, but I hope that slowly customers are going to come back,” said David from the vegetable stall Rimon. “I also think that many will understand what is really important in life. I see it about myself, for example, in these two months I have started to pray daily. This crisis has not happened by chance.”
Following two months of home workouts and training in the streets, some gym-goers could not wait to return to their new-look workouts.
In accordance with Health Ministry regulations, all customers are required to fill in a health declaration and have their temperature checked before entering. Many treadmills and machines have been sealed off to ensure greater distances between gym users.
Keren Shtevy, the chief executive of Holmes Place in Israel, said that all 50 branches of the fitness chain opened at 6 a.m.. While the number of users has decreased, Shtevy said those opting to train felt very safe. Users are requested to register via a smartphone application prior to arriving, ensuring that there is room for them under strict crowding limits.
“For the last two months, the media has stressed that everywhere is dangerous,” she said. “Now we are trying to make our customers relaxed and tell them everything is fine. The gym is a healthy place, not a dangerous place.”
Shtevy said that she had noticed a significant change in gym behavior, with users cleaning all equipment and machines very thoroughly before and after use. People have been “trained so well during the past two months,” she joked.
“For the company, as it was for the whole market, the past two months were very difficult. The clubs were closed, we had no income and employees were on forced vacation,” Shtevy said.
“People warned me against opening the clubs, but I think we should open them and return a feeling of safety. The gym is a safe place, it is safe and healthy to train. It is my responsibility to ensure that all people trust us, that we know what we are doing.”