Israelis Crowd Beaches and Return to the Classroom as Coronvirus Restrictions Ease

Starting Sunday, all grades will go back to school, parks and gardens will reopen and gatherings of under 50 people are allowed again as Israel lifts its coronavirus lockdown

Tel Avivians return to the city's beaches, and the municipality doesn't have the manpower to stop them, May 15, 2020.
Tel Avivians return to the city's beaches, and the municipality doesn't have the manpower to stop them, May 15, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Further restrictions on the freedom of movement put in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus will be lifted in the coming week. The government has approved the resumption of school for all grades in areas that are not considered coronavirus hotspots.

Israel has had 16,608 coronavirus infections to date, including another 19 in the past 24 hours. Some 3,485 people are currently sick, including 59 in serious condition and 49 on ventilators. Some 268 people have died, including two in the past 24 hours.

The return to school starting on Sunday will be at the discretion of the heads of local authorities. Some regional councils have already announced that they will delay the opening of schools by a day due to difficulties in organizing school buses at such short notice.

The resumed activity is subject to wearing masks in open areas during recess and during class for fourth through twelfth graders, as well as maintaining hygiene and providing a declaration of health upon entering the school. If COVID-19 is detected at any educational institution, it will be shut down.

Beaches will officially open on Wednesday, but thousands of people already swarmed Tel Aviv beaches over the weekend despite the prohibition on doing so. Visitors were not issued tickets, and the Tel Aviv municipality refused to answer Haaretz’s questions on the matter. Police officers and inspectors were busy with issuing tickets to motorized vehicles speeding along bike paths.

Even though swimming season has not started, several beaches had lifeguards who were mainly occupied with calling on people to come out of the water. Tamir, a Tel Aviv resident who’s been to the beach three times in the last week, said, “It’s impossible to enforce a two-meter [six-foot] distance at the beach, and no one will measure it. Everyone should look after himself since there’s concern about contagion. People here are asking for a light, playing frisbee or borrowing [paddleball] paddles. I am not giving anything to anyone.”

Einav, who recently returned from a trip to South America because of the spread of the virus there, said that compared to the beach at Ashdod, Tel Aviv was much better. “It was 10 times more crowded there than in Tel Aviv,” she said. “Inspectors are a deterring factor – it’s not as nice to go to the beach when you know you can get a ticket. If they want to, they can define rules for [social] distancing at the beach, but people here aren’t going to comply. Look at the beach, it’s like any normal day.”

The Tel Aviv municipality said: “According to Health Ministry guidelines, no lifeguard services are available and swimming is forbidden. In order to comply with these guidelines, we’ve increased the number of inspectors on the beaches, increasing enforcement as well as explaining the rules to people. We’ve erected signs saying that swimming is prohibited, put these messages on our website, on social media and in mail sent to residents.

"The city doesn’t have the manpower to enforce these regulations due to the large number of citizens who are confused by all the changing rules. The government’s announcement that beaches would open in a few days contributed to people going to the beach sooner.”

Earlier last week, the government allowed gatherings of up to 50 people in open spaces, while keeping a distance of two meters between people. Brit milah, or a Jewish circumcision ceremony, can be held with up to 19 people attending. There are no more restrictions on visiting public parks and gardens, and using outdoor exercise facilities is allowed while maintaining distance and avoiding crowding. However, using playgrounds is still not allowed.

Malls and markets have reopened, with a limit on the number of people allowed in at any given time, to keep a density of less than one person per 20 square meters (215 square feet). Stores in open areas have also opened, subject to Health Ministry guidelines.

Clubs, bars and pubs remain closed, as do cinemas, theaters and other cultural institutions, such as water and amusement parks.

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