Israel Reduces COVID Restrictions as Most Commerce, Public Activity to Resume Sunday

Stores, malls, museums and more get green light, grades 7-10 will stay home in next phase of Israel's COVID lockdown exit

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A nearly empty mall in Bat Yam this week.
A nearly empty mall in Bat Yam this week.Credit: Hadas Parush

The coronavirus cabinet on Monday approved a plan to reopen street shops, malls and open-air markets to the general public on Sunday. Museums, libraries and houses of worship will also reopen, with no need to present a vaccination certificate.

Schools will reopen to grades 5, 6, 11 and 12 in cities and towns with lower coronavirus infection rates.

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Gyms, cultural events, hotels and swimming pools will open to those who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Starting Friday, restrictions on gatherings will also be loosened, with gatherings of up to 10 people indoors and 20 people outdoors permitted.

During the cabinet meeting, Education Minister Yoav Gallant called for the full reopening of the schools in cities with relatively low infection rates. According to the plan approved by the ministers, schools in these areas will only full reopen under the next phase of the lockdown exit plan, which will take effect on March 7.

“The situation is intolerable for the children and parents and they come with a heavy price,” Gallant said. “There is no reason to leave a single student at home in those cities.” Gallant added that schools could be partially reopened in cities with a medium infection rate as well.

Netanyahu said the economy should be reopened in two phases. Netanyahu advocated for reopening stores and synagogues to the general public and opening museums, malls, markets, gyms, cultural and sport events, and hotels to those who have been vaccinated. “In the second phase, some two weeks later, we’ll open additional venues,” Netanyahu said. He added that more than 570,000 Israeli adults over 50 who are yet to be vaccinated are “endangering their health, and risk death.”

Also Monday, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee unanimously approved Monday the continued use of the Shin Bet security service tracking in combating the coronavirus pandemic.

The Shin Bet has been using its digital tracking technology for contact tracing in the event that patients refuse to cooperate with epidemiological investigations, or following substantial spikes in infection rates.

The committee, led by New Hope MK Zvi Hauser, extended the involvement of the organization through March 3.

Elsewhere, the health and education ministries have developed a plan to roll out a program for coronavirus testing in schools. According to this plan, schools performing this continuous testing will be able to continue operating even if their location becomes orange – or the infection rate rises – under Israel’s traffic light plan.

A pilot program has tested the plan in different cities since November. If a school receives permission from 75 percent of parents, it can perform rapid coronavirus testing at the building’s entrance in order to quickly identify outbreaks.

According to Education Ministry sources, the plan was in place for a short time only, and was not adopted by other schools due to disagreements about how it should be implemented. The ministries are formulating a new plan, so that schools can remain open in places that see a spike in infections.

Jonathan Lis contributed to this report.

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