Tel Aviv mayor urges government to open restaurants, bars next week

Elements of the plan include: spaces between indoor tables will be double the legal requirement; customers must have their temperature checked upon entry and wash their hands.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai drinking at a bar in Tel Aviv (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai drinking at a bar in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai called on the government on Wednesday to bring forward the reopening of restaurants and bars to next weekend, warning that waiting until at least the end of May will result in many shutting down.
Speaking to reporters at Tel Aviv's popular Peacock Bar, set up to showcase the possibility of effective social distancing within bars and restaurants amid coronavirus fears, Huldai warned that failing to reopen the sector will result in the unemployment of hundreds of thousands of workers.
In Tel Aviv and Jaffa alone, there are approximately 2,500 restaurants, cafes and bars, employing some 70,000 workers. According to the government's coronavirus exit strategy unveiled earlier this week, they are only expected to open at the end of May or mid-June, should infection rates not increase significantly.
"The Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality regards businesses - with an emphasis on the restaurant industry - as important partners in establishing the economic and social routine in the city, and in Israel in general," Huldai said.
"We are doing everything possible to help, including exemptions from fees and other tools, but this remains insufficient. Saving the industry for hundreds of thousands of workers is in the hands of the government - please, contribute to its rescue."
In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other ministers, Huldai presented a detailed plan developed by the Israel Restaurants Association to reopen the sector. He also called on the government to assist many young workers whose continued eligibility for unemployment benefits is set to expire in the coming days and weeks.
At the heart of the plan is a long list of health and hygiene-related standards, including: deep cleaning of all front and back of house facilities; at least two meters between all tables; cleaning all tables and chairs between customer departures and arrivals; hand sanitizer at the entrance and on every table; disposable menus; measuring employee temperature before every shift; and protective equipment for every worker.
According to data published by the Finance Ministry on Wednesday, approximately 64,400 restaurant industry employees are currently seeking unemployment benefits. Only the education sector, with 65,000 impacted employees, exceeds those affected by the coronavirus outbreak in the restaurant industry.
Israel Restaurants Association CEO Shai Berman accused the government of "cheating" the nation's restaurateurs and bar owners, and calling government assistance packages "one big bluff."
"We have seen IKEA opening, the malls opening and the gyms opening, and we cannot understand why we are closed - we feel cheated," Berman said.
"We watch pretentious press conferences every evening at prime time, hearing the prime minister and Tax Authority director talking about how they are transferring money to us at the push of a button. The vast majority of workers and entrepreneurs in the restaurant sector have not seen one shekel of assistance."
Emphasizing that reopening their businesses requires some level of cash flow, in order to pay suppliers and returning employees, Berman said the government is "simply not helping us. It is, in effect, one big government bluff."