Israeli Experts Plan to Ease Lockdown Within Week Save for 14 ‘Red’ Towns

Health Ministry's eight-stage COVID-19 plan will last until February. If the trend continues, starting Thursday preschools and businesses not serving the public in person will reopen

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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An aerial view of a Tel Aviv beach during Israel's second nationwide coronavirus lockdown, October 7, 2020.
An aerial view of a Tel Aviv beach during Israel's second nationwide coronavirus lockdown, October 7, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

The Health Ministry is preparing to lift the nationwide lockdown this Thursday or the following Sunday, October 18, at the latest. The restrictions on movement will end, preschools will reopen, and the private sector will be able to resume operations – with the exception of businesses serving the public in person.

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But the following towns with excessively high coronavirus infection rates will remain under lockdown – Bnei Brak, Rechasim, Modi’in Ilit, Elad, Betar Ilit, Ramle, Netivot, Ashdod, Rehovot, Lod and Hadera – and a few neighborhoods in Beit Shemesh, Jerusalem and Netanya.

The coronavirus cabinet is expected to discuss the phases of the lockdown exit. The Health Ministry has drawn up an eight-stage plan, to begin next week and end in February, with each stage lasting for around two weeks – assuming that COVID-19 rates continue to decline.

A boy looks out of his window in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak in central Israel, one of the places hardest hit by the coronavirus, September 27, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

This program is being discussed with coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu, though there is no certainty that this is the plan that will be submitted to the coronavirus cabinet. Possible changes could include a combination of some of the stages.

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The two main numbers that will determine the end of one phase and the beginning of the next are the R (a measure of how rapidly the virus is spreading) and the N (the number of new daily infections). Over the past week the N and the percentage of positive tests fell.

Gamzu says hospitals are also beginning to see a decline in COVID-19 admissions. The target for allowing a lifting of the lockdown is an average of 2,000 new cases a day and an R number of 0.8, meaning that every infected person passes on the virus to less than one other person on average.

If the trend continues, starting Thursday the private sector (businesses not serving the public in person) and preschools will be permitted to reopen. There is broad agreement on both of these activities, which are considered highly likely to be allowed to return to operations.

The first phase as proposed by the Health Ministry is also set to include the reopening of Ben-Gurion International Airport, the resumption of restaurants’ takeout service (not just deliveries), the lifting of the prohibition on demonstrations and the reopening of beaches.

The second phase, which is expected to begin in November, assuming the average number of new daily cases falls to 1,000, will include the reopening of synagogues, complementary medical services, and school for grades 1 through 4.

Phase 3, to start on November 15, will include the reopening of businesses that serve the public in person and all gyms, stores, shopping malls and outdoor markets.

Israelis protest against the Netanyahu government in Jerusalem, September 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Phase 4, scheduled to start on November 29, when the number of new infections is down to 250 a day, will allow for the reopening of cafes, restaurants and attractions.

Phase 5 two weeks later (December 13), is expected to include the reopening of hotels and other overnight accommodations, as well as swimming pools.

Phase 6 (December 27) will allow for the reopening of museums and the resumption of cultural, leisure and group sport activities. Phase 7 (January 10) will see the return to classrooms of children in grades 5 to 12.

Only in the eighth and final stage will bars and clubs be permitted to reopen, and sporting events with live attendance will be allowed to resume.

Sources in the medical establishment stressed that the program is fluid and flexible, but the main components are as described here.

There were 2,925 new coronavirus infections diagnosed on Friday. Some 7.8 percent of tests came back positive, a new low following the recent peak in cases. There are currently 62,165 Israelis ill with coronavirus, of whom 1,544 are hospitalized and 232 are on respirators, To date 1,914 Israelis have died.

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