Israel Eases Coronavirus Lockdown, Reopening Schools, Salons and Synagogues

The new set of coronavirus regulations, taking effect on Sunday, will return about half a million Israeli children from grades one to four to school

Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
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A second-grade class in Ramat Aviv learns in a school gymnasium, November 1, 2020.
A second-grade class in Ramat Aviv learns in a school gymnasium, November 1, 2020. Credit: Moti Milrod
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

A new series of coronavirus regulations took effect at 6 A.M. Sunday as Israel continues to gradually relax its autumn lockdown.

The cabinet approved the latest regulations in a vote Friday evening, after the cabinet approved them the day before.

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The new regulations will remain in effect through January 14 and are based on recommendations received from the Health Ministry.

The new rules include the following:

• Training and competitions will be permitted for higher-level athletes, as well as for children and youths. For adult non-athletes, swimming and motor sports will be allowed.

• Driving lessons will be permitted in accordance with the directives for travel in a private car; that is, the driver and up to two passengers.

• Social services and other services described in Section 11(b) of the coronavirus regulations will be permitted, not only for essential care. This amendment permits the operation of “day centers and clubs for senior citizens,” or services meant to alleviate loneliness among senior citizens, including those not part of a local authority’s social work services. Libraries for the blind will also be allowed to open.

• Sports training and facilities for competitive and professional athletes will be permitted to operate.

• In addition to national parks and nature reserves, outdoor heritage and antiquities sites will be allowed to open.

• Bed-and-breakfasts with up to four completely separate units will be permitted to operate; a violation of this rule will cost the establishment 5,000 shekels ($1,460).

• Venues offering services such as barbershops, beauty salons and complementary health treatments will be permitted to operate in accordance with the regulations and by appointment only. These treatments include therapeutic horseback riding, psychological and emotional therapy, as well as hydrotherapy at swimming pools.

• Drive-in movie venues will be allowed to operate.

• Prayers will be permitted with up to 10 people indoors and up to 20 outdoors. Worship at a house of prayer with more than the maximum number of people will constitute a criminal offense, with each person present subject to a fine of 500 shekels.

• Events such as a wedding, party, ceremony or organized tour will be permitted, with up to 10 people indoors or up to 20 outdoors.

• It is prohibited to attend or organize sporting events, conferences, conventions, festivals or art or entertainment shows.

• A business located on public property or a private venue holding a prohibited event will be fined 5,000 shekels. The same goes for service providers such as photography, videography, catering, music, lighting and infrastructure businesses where the number of participants exceeds the maximum limit.

• The operator of a public or business venue where services are provided by appointment – such as nonmedical services involving physical contact and complementary medical treatments – must retain the personal details of customers in the event that such information is needed for contact tracing.

Schools reopen

About half a million children in are returning to school , six weeks after schools closed following a spike in coronavirus infections.

Unlike the beginning of the school year, grades one and two will also be divided into groups of up to 20 children, who will be required to wear a mask during recess as well.

Teachers will be able to move among no more than three groups of children, except for physical education teachers, who will be able to teach more than three groups. But these capsules will not be maintained at schools’ afternoon activities, when the groups might mix.

A barber, who will be allowed to operate by appointment after the easing of coronavirus regulations, preparing his tools, October 29, 2020.
A barber, who will be allowed to operate by appointment after the easing of coronavirus regulations, preparing his tools, October 29, 2020. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Although division into smaller groups in grades one and two requires more teachers and classrooms, the government has not funded this. As a result, the Education Ministry has announced that schools do not have to return to a full week’s schedule but can limit the school week to four days.

Still, most local authorities say they will be keeping the schools open for five days.

On Thursday, the Education Ministry released the full directives for the reopening of classes. For grades 1 and 2, schools have been asked to focus on the core subjects and “emotional and social aspects,” and teachers have been instructed to focus on reading and writing to “complete the process of acquiring reading by the end of the school year.”

Teachers have been asked to teach in small groups to close learning gaps as needed, but have been told not to make this division permanent.

Teachers have also been asked to open the schools festively and devote time for the children to get reacquainted and recount their experiences during the lockdown, “focusing on forces that helped them get through the period.”

Last week, the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee struck down regulations that allow teachers of grade 5 and above to meet with their students outdoors. The committee demanded that the education and health ministries draw up new regulations for open-air studies in groups of 20 students, rather than the previous maximum of 15, which had been decided on but not formally set down in regulations.

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