Government considering re-opening retail by Friday

Health Minister Litzman considering stepping down * 193 dead

FOX shop in Jerusalem (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
FOX shop in Jerusalem
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The majority of stores could reopen their doors as early as Sunday, including restaurants and cafes for pickup and takeaway, florists, jewelry shops, money changers and even hairdressers.
The government was meant to convene about the subject on Thursday night, but the meeting was pushed off until Friday. 
The move comes amid pressure by business owners who say they are in need of economic relief or may have to close. Another motivation is said to be increasing fear of business owners operating under the radar, without supervision or following Health Ministry guidelines.
Some retail stores opened earlier this week after the government announced its first steps toward lifting the coronavirus lockdown on the economy, but the majority were unable to meet the ministry’s guidelines and therefore remained closed.
What won’t open? Cosmetic stores, large marketplaces and shopping malls, where crowds gather or people come into close physical contact with one another.
If restrictions are further lifted, the public will still be required to adhere to the Health Ministry’s guidelines, such as wearing masks and staying two meters from each other.
It is not expected that the government will discuss other forms of relief, such as enabling the public to do sports free of any distance-from-home restrictions.
Thursday’s discussion will be held on the backdrop of a week full of turbulent meetings and threats, as several ministers have expressed fury against Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov, who continues pushing to keep the country closed.
“There is total confusion here; they think we are living in a totalitarian regime and can tell citizens what they are and are not allowed to do,” a senior official told Channel 12. “Citizens have to get permission to go out on the street, to do sports, to work. It cannot be that Bar Siman Tov says that the reason to open one store and not another is because ‘the country can deal with it.’
“Who is he to decide what the country can deal with?” the official continued. “And to speak for me without any data or facts? He is purposely dragging his feet in order to buy time so they don't get rid of him, as they should.”
The news station said that there is even discontent within the ministry itself, with health officials proposing alternative plans, including one that would keep people over the age of 70 (65 if the person has underlying medical conditions) at home but open up everything else except for recreational facilities. In another plan, recreational facilities are open to anyone under the age of 50.
Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman is considering moving from his post to the Housing and Construction Ministry due to pressure from within the ultra-Orthodox sector.
An official in Litzman’s office told The Jerusalem Post that “talk and rumors like this did not start today,” adding that, “there is pressure from here and there,” but that “no decision has been made.”
Litzman met with Netanyahu on Thursday afternoon to discuss the issue, which had been previously discussed due to Blue and White’s original demands that it take control of the Health Ministry, demands that were then rejected.
According to Channel 12, Litzman met Thursday with Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, the leader of the Gur Hasidic sect of which he is a follower, who told him that he wants Litzman out of the role because of how much he has been criticized for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The rebbe reportedly told the minister that he was bringing a bad name to Gur specifically and to haredim in general.
Litzman came under fire earlier this month when he and his wife became infected with coronavirus, causing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mossad director Yossi Cohen, National Security Council adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Bar Siman Tov to all enter quarantine.
Reports later revealed that the minister might not have followed his office’s own guidelines. He reportedly prayed at a synagogue with a minyan after his ministry’s directive was issued that “no person should pray in a place other than his place of residence unless prayers are being conducted in an open space.”
Testimony by residents in the haredi neighborhood in which Litzman lives suggests that he violated the directives several times and in multiple ways, including going to the mikveh (ritual bath). The allegations were never substantiated.
Litzman is scheduled to meet with his rabbi on Friday to make a final decision.
Meanwhile, the infection rate in Israel continues to climb.
There are 14,882 people who have been infected with the novel coronavirus, including 139 people in serious condition, among them 107 who are intubated, the Health Ministry reported Friday morning. The number of fatalities reached 193 and 5,685 have recovered.
An 86-year-old Israeli man who had contracted the virus was hospitalized at the Baruch Padeh Medical Center, Poriya. After testing negative for the virus, he was released last week back to his nursing home in Tiberias. Then, on Wednesday night, his condition deteriorated and he was taken back to the hospital where he tested positive again. The man was having difficulty breathing and is currently intubated in serious condition.
The hospital emphasized that the man had several pre-existing medical conditions.
The Health Ministry is considering putting restrictions on two cities: Netivot and Beit Shemesh, after they saw a spike in the number of infected people per capita. The data released by the ministry on Thursday shows that Netivot has 68 sick patients out of a population of 36,511 residents – an increase of 22% from three days prior. In Beit Shemesh, 392 patients were reported, up 23% in three days.
As of May 1, the responsibility for testing patients for the novel coronavirus will be transferred to Israel’s four public national health funds, The Post has learned.
The Health Ministry informed Magen David Adom director-general Eli Bin of the change on Thursday and thanked MDA employees and volunteers “who are operating a successful system to swab for the coronavirus and are worthy of the highest praise.”
Going forward, MDA will be closing its coronavirus hotline and the public will contact their HMOs as they do for routine illnesses. MDA will continue to operate four drive-through testing complexes in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beersheba. In addition, according to the changing needs, it may activate pop-up testing centers in coordination with the Health Ministry, and will continue to be responsible for screening staff and residents of Israel’s senior living facilities.
Twenty organizations from within the environment, tourism, education, health and sports arenas wrote a letter to the prime minister and the government’s ministers requesting they open up nature and green spaces “for the mental and physical health of Israeli citizens… We, the undersigned, are calling on you to promote immediate steps that allow individuals to go out into nature and open spaces, to hike, walk and exercise within defined limits,” the letter read. "Staying in nature and the open air is not a problem, but part of the solution.”
The letter explained the obvious health benefits of fresh air and exercise, including reducing blood pressure and strengthening the immune system.
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.