Coronavirus cabinet approves opening street shops on Sunday

According to the Health Ministry, the infection rate in Israel is on the rise.

Israel Police officers check citizen's identification to keep coronavirus restricions, Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel Police officers check citizen's identification to keep coronavirus restricions, Jerusalem
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The coronavirus cabinet approved the opening of street shops in green cities starting next week in a meeting on Wednesday, specifying that only four people would be allowed in each store at once and that stores would have to comply with the “purple tag” Health Ministry regulations.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the decision but expressed reservations, saying that “we are not going to wait for 1,500 patients. We suggested at one time a night curfew and other things. We need to accept the principle that we are knowingly crossing the line.”
It was expected that restrictions on stores in red cities would be specified on Thursday or over the weekend and that most would not be allowed to reopen.
“We also know that there is a certain increase in morbidity, so if we see next weekend toward the big third stage [of the planned relaxing of restrictions] that there is an increase in morbidity, we will have to stop and maybe even tighten the restrictions,” Netanyahu said.
The decision on opening stores Sunday went against the wishes of Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, who has said many times that he feels it is too soon to open the retail sector.
The Health Ministry pushed that opening stores on Sunday could lead to a delay in stage three of the exit strategy, which is meant to start on November 15. That stage includes malls and also the return of fifth, sixth, eleventh and twelfth graders to their classes.
But the decision was one that Finance Minister Israel Katz has pushed for and welcomed. “Small business owners are at the forefront of the economic struggle in coronavirus and have paid very high prices due to the restrictions imposed,” tweeted Katz. “We are committed to doing everything possible to enable them to return to work. I am convinced that the business owners and their employees will adhere to the guidelines.”
Blue and White MK Meirav Cohen supported Edelstein. But others, such as Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, Transportation Minister Miri Regev and Interior Minister Arye Deri, said that they thought these stores should open.   
“If we set six steps to open, the Health Ministry must do it,” said Katz, who had hoped for street shops already to open last week. “The Health Ministry must carry through on what was decided: street shops on Sunday and malls a week later.”
EARLIER IN the day, Katz and Education Minister Yoav Gallant held a discussion with over 150 heads of local authorities regarding the next steps in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and their implications on the education system.
The meeting focused on establishing steps required for the safe return of students to schools during the pandemic. The proposed outline is expected to last until Passover, when it will be re-examined.
As part of the proposed outline, grades one and two would return to classes in full capacity (no capsules) and grades five and six would return to school between November 15 and 17. The Education and Health ministries would establish a mobile testing facility that would travel between schools to screen the teachers.
The cabinet approved a second plan was also revealed by Gallant and Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata that would allow immigrant children to learn in small groups in their classrooms. The ministers said that thousands of students who had recently immigrated were unable to manage the distance learning classes in Hebrew.
“No girl or boy should be left behind,” Tamano-Shata said.
Meanwhile, there has been a rise in morbidity in recent days. The head of the National Security Council Meir Ben-Shabbat said at the start of the meeting that the downward trends had stopped and that around 2% of all people screened are testing positive.
“If in the previous discussion I said the reproduction rate was 0.69, today it is 0.88,” he said, referring to how many people each infected person will infect.
There were 838 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday. On Wednesday, there were 364 people seriously ill with the virus and 159 on ventilators. Since the pandemic began, there have been 2,597 deaths from the virus. The Health Ministry said it conducted 40,832 tests.
The bill to double fines on people who break Health Ministry regulations was dropped from the Knesset plenum’s agenda at the last minute on Wednesday. It was agreed that before voting on the proposal, the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties would first meet with Netanyahu.
ALSO ON Wednesday, the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved the “Island Law” in its second and third readings, despite Health Ministry objections.
The law will allow the government to declare cities as “green cities” for the purpose of tourism.
Cities will need to meet specific criteria in order to qualify as an island city. Once they qualify, they will be able to receive local tourism. Additionally, some easing of restrictions on attractions and restaurants will be considered and special exceptions to restrictions will be considered for those people who have recovered from the virus.
This bill is based on the previous decision to make Eilat and the Dead Sea area a “green tourism islands.” According to the outline, the coronavirus cabinet will be allowed to declare the city of Eilat and the hotel complex surrounding the Dead Sea as “special tourist areas.”
Entry into the green tourist areas, which house around 30% of the country’s hotel rooms, will be conditional on the presentation of an up-to-date negative coronavirus test. The outline will allow the opening of hotels there while adhering to Health Ministry distancing guidelines.
At a later stage, and more gradually, the law that will be enacted will allow the opening of more businesses in the areas, which will serve the hotel guests.
At the start of the meeting, Coronavirus Commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu said that fewer people are wearing masks than in the past, recommending using street cameras to monitor the public and administer fines. Netanyahu said that this option should be investigated.
Gamzu also focused on the large number of coronavirus cases being brought into Israel through people from the Palestinian Authority and called on the government to stop Israelis from traveling there and back, as well as to consider testing 5,000 Palestinian workers who come into Israel each day.
Hannah Brown and Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.